When Will There Be Good News? By Kate Atkinson
I picked up the novel When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson on a day when I was very much looking for a “happy” book. I had just finished reading a rather dreary – and somewhat tedious book that had taken far too long to read and I wanted something uplifting and light – and absorbing. The cover of When Will There Be Good News? looks lovely – a child and a dog running – despite the title, my impression was that they were running with free spirited pleasure. I was wrong. They are running from a horror. So this wasn’t going to be a “happy” book. But the first chapter is so stunning – I was hooked in the first eight pages. The writing is terrific, the story was definitely completely absorbing, and I was thoroughly engaged to the very end. Kate Atkinson is the author of several earlier books, one of which, Behind the Scenes at the Museum won the Whitbread Book of the Year award in 1995. I read that, loved it, and then read her next couple of books. Kate Atkinson then seemed to have switched to writing mystery novels that I somehow just missed reading as they were published. I will certainly go back to them now.
It is difficult to review a mystery because I do not want to spoil any of the suspense – and this novel has a lot of suspense. The dust jacket blurb will tell you that a murder was committed 30 years ago – witnessed by a six-year-old girl. Now the perpetrator is being released from prison. There is concern.
We meet Reggie, a sixteen-year-old mother’s helper, caring for the baby son of Dr. Joanna Hunter. Reggie has experienced a lot of grief in her short life but she has an enormous spirit and such a desire to have a good life, you will love her from the start. Reggie loves the baby and she admires and adores Dr. Hunter. It is Reggie who takes the lead when Dr. Hunter and her baby disappear. No one else seems to be concerned – but Reggie knows that something very bad may have happened to them. All of the characters in this book are terrific including the ex-policeman Jackson Brodie and Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe – both married to the wrong people.
Kate Atkinson is a very clever writer – if she were not so good the reader might be annoyed by the frequent “asides” that pepper the narrative, and the nursery rhyme verses that are quoted in bits and pieces. At the end I realized that they might come from the fact that these bits of nursery rhymes remain as the only real memories of the mothers who are no longer there. Memories of the early years of mothers singing nursery rhymes to their young daughters – memories that are all these women have.
This book reinforces the belief that every good experience in your life must be treasured – and that as the wise Reggie says “really, every time a person says goodbye to another person they should pay attention, just in case it was the last time.”
Everyone in this novel has experienced the grief of the death of a child, parent or sibling. Reggie says, “just because something bad happened to her once doesn’t mean it won’t happen again. Believe me, bad things happen to me all the time.” It does seem that bad things happen and happen and happen. When will there be good news? Indeed. But good things do happen too – and in the end some of those who survive do find the chance for happiness – and the reader has had a really great time reading this book.