Reviews: Case Histories, Kate Atkinson / The Invisible Ones, Stef Penney

Okay, my enthusiasm for my TBR shelf has cooled observably. The problem is that when I finish a book on my TBR shelf, I don’t have anywhere else to put it. It just goes back on my TBR shelf because that’s the only available storage. I need to move on selling discarded books to the Strand. I am hoping the Strand will agree to give me store credit instead of cash — they should want to, right? That would be beneficial to them as well as to me? Anyway, a TBR shelf is fun insofar as reading books off of it empties it. Once I start emptying it properly, I will be enthusiastic about it again.

In that vein, I read Case Histories at last! Kate Atkinson! It finally happened! And shortly thereafter I read Stef Penney’s new book, The Invisible Ones, kindly provided to me by the lovely Lydia of Penguin, and y’all, these are not the same book but they felt like the same book. They’re both about divorced private investigators looking into The Case of the Missing Girl, they both (spoilers ahoy) have incest, they both feature the poor old private investigator being damaged in ways that they think relate to the case but they are not sure.

If I may be permitted a small rant: What on earth is this chokehold that divorced private investigators have on our collective unconscious? Why do they pop up over and over again, alternately still being in love with their ex-wives and calling them bitches? What is with that? I don’t even like private investigators! Let alone ones with weird, uncomfortable attitudes towards women, which is the case in Case Histories and The Invisible Ones. It wasn’t so much a problem in The Invisible Ones, but I wished someone had called Jackson Brodie on some of his bullshitty thoughts about the women in the case.

Both of these books were, you know, fine. I went through them quickly and enjoyed reading them, but once I got done, I didn’t think, God damn, I really must search out more books by these authors! I don’t mind about Stef Penney, but I know that people whose taste I respect, including Teresa and Ana, have really really enjoyed Kate Atkinson. Teresa and Ana, did you have the same reaction to Case Histories? Or do you consider Case Histories to be the pinnacle of Kate Atkinson’s achievements, in which case we possibly just have different opinions about her as an author?

P.S. Since writing the first draft of this post, I most gloriously took a massive ton of books to the Strand and sold them there. The bag o’ books was awkwardly huge and heavy for the subway, but I persisted. To avoid disappointment, I told myself to expect the Strand to accept fewer than half of them, and to receive maybe $5. Instead they took all but one and gave me $40. It was wonderful. It was both cleansing (my mother sensibly brainwashed Little Jenny into enjoying getting rid of stuff) and financially beneficial.

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34 thoughts on “Reviews: Case Histories, Kate Atkinson / The Invisible Ones, Stef Penney

  1. Hmm, I’ve been wondering what ‘The Invisible Ones’ would be like. See I think her first book ‘The Tenderness of Wolves’ is excellent. It’s a thriller with a most unusual female protagonist (who is so cool without being so cool that someone decided she needed to be put in low cut leather clothing just in case we weren’t getting her full coolness) in a different kind of historical setting. It also has multiple perspectives (hurray, likes) and something a bit spoilery that is great. But yes divorced private invetsigators, who are usually drunks seem to have a monopoly on the crime industry sometimes – which classic detective do you think they stem from?

    • *giggles* But don’t ALL cool women have to be in lowcut leather clothing? HOW ELSE will you know that they are cool? :p

      I do love multiple perspectives, I must say. I’ll probably give The Tenderness of Wolves a try, because I enjoyed the plot of The Invisible Ones but just wasn’t crazy about the, I don’t know, the genre it belongs to.

      • I tried Tenderness of Wolves and gave up about 50 pages in because it just didn’t convince me. But I’ll have to give it another go thanks to Jodie!

        Also, my closet only contains lowcut leather clothing. Gotta earn my cred.

  2. Interesting reaction to Jackson Brodie. I never thought of him as having a bad attitude toward women. I’ll have to pay specific attention next time, but usually that sort of thing would jump out and offend me.

    • It wasn’t that bad, I’m overreacting. He said a few things about the way his wife dresses his daughter, and also that he’s just slightly contemptuous towards most of the women he meets. I dunno.

      • The prostitute comment! Dude, she is what, nine? Just because she doesn’t have tights on…I think you need to learn the meaning of hyperbole. I was so annoyed they put that into the tv version as well 😦

  3. I very much enjoyed Case Histories but I did read it several years ago so my memory is hazy about it. I would actually think you’d get on better with her earlier books, the ones about crazy families. For some reason I have you pinned as a madcap-family-reading sort of gal rather than a divorced-unresolved-private-eye kind of gal. I’m interested in reading the Stef Penney but have only come across mixed reviews so far. Hmmm, I should listen to that, shouldn’t I?

    • You have me pinned exactly right! My favorite part of Case Histories was the bit at the beginning where it was set in the family with the four girls. I shall duly try Kate Atkinson’s earlier books. Thanks for the advice!

  4. I have only read one Atkinson, and it was not one of her detective novels. It was an unusual little standalone called Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It was an interesting book, and one that I have not managed to forget over the past 6 or 7 years, which I think speaks to it’s staying power. I do have Case Histories on my shelf, and probably should read it soon though!

    I love that you made so much from your books at The Strand! Now you can go buy more books! Yay!!

    • I DID buy more books, yay! But some of them, I’m afraid, were Christmas presents. I was worried about the ethics of that, because it felt like spending a gift card on presents, but I did it anyway. :p I still have money left over though!

      Behind the Scenes at the Museum is the one I’m always intending to read. It has such a great title!

  5. I’ve never read Kate Atkinson. I think I get her confused with another author whose name I can’t recall. She wrote The House at Riverton, right? Is this private investigator a recurring character, or just in this one book?

    $40 to spend on books at the Strand sounds glorious! I plan to get store credit at a place in Ann Arbor before I graduate, if I can get a bunch of books off my shelves. But then, er, I’ll just get new ones to put on there instead…

    • Aarti, I think you’re thinking of Kate Morton, who does modern Gothic novels. Atkinson has written four crime novels with Jackson Brodie and a few non-crime novels and a story collection.

    • I love store credit at bookstores! Only sometimes what ends up happening is that I hoard it in miserly fashion and no book seems necessary enough to spend my store credit on. Which is so silly!

  6. The problem is that when I finish a book on my TBR shelf, I don’t have anywhere else to put it
    I have the same problem, Jenny! I’ve managed to donate some of my TBR books to charity shops and created a little space for 2012’s books, but the rest either go back on the TBR shelf, or on one of my ‘normal’ shelves, where I make room for it by putting one of those books on the TBR shelf in a kind of book musical chairs.

    Kate Atkinson – my favourite books of hers are Human Croquet and Emotionally Weird – very black humour. I like the character of Jackson Brodie but I’m not struck by some of the stories – but I do need to re-read the whole series. I am going to read Started Early, Took My Dog soon, which I think is set when Brodie was young.

    • I have started bringing discarded books to work and leaving them around for people to take, which is a nice way of clearing off my shelf, especially of ARCs.

      I like both those titles, and I love black humor! I shall take your advice. πŸ˜€

  7. I wouldn’t say that this is the pinnacle of Atkinson’s writing, but it is my favorite Brodie novel, only because I thought it was so funny, and the others have been less so. I do think the later novels show how Jackson is often wrong about women, not because people call him out, but because the action in the story shows how he gets things wrong. The most recent book in particular shows him being kind of useless as an investigator. I don’t find Jackson’s thoughts all that offensive, though. I think he just doesn’t get women, and I don’t get the idea that the narrative itself endorses all his views.

    I agree with Litlove that you might want to try one of her non-Brodie books before giving up on her. I love all her books, but the non-Brodies are my favorites. Emotionally Weird had me in absolute stitches. You might find it overly twee, but it’s worth a try. My review has some good representative quotes.

    • Okay, good! Good to know! I knew you’d be able to answer that question for me, and I definitely trust your opinion. I will try more Kate Atkinson subsequently.

  8. I read Started Early, Took My Dog, and unless Brodie is decrepit in the other books he’s not young in that one. I do like that the recurring character isn’t actually the main focus, so I didn’t worry to much about his inability to form relationships with women.

  9. I don’t feel I can answer the question properly since I’ve only read two of her novels so far, but so many bloggers have told me the same as Litlove about her non-Brodie novels. So when I read her again it will be one of those. I also agree with Teresa about Brodie being wrong about women and the stories showing that’s the case in subtle ways. His inner monologue often made me cringe, but I cringed for the character rather than for the book as a whole. I was talking to Jodie about the TV adaptation recently, and apparently the being wrong bit is something they completely removed, which is a real shame :\

    • I’m rather curious about the TV adaptation, I must say! I am a bit afraid of Jason Isaacs because of how scary he was when he was Lucius Malfoy and the evil guy in The Patriot, but Jackson Brodie is not really a scary character.

  10. I haven’t found a Kate Atkinson novel to like yet either, but will take the advice here and try another one of the non-detective type. I have a copy of Human Croquet from when a friend of mine cleaned it out!

  11. Jenny, I LOVE Kate Atkinson, but I felt really underwhelmed by Case Histories. My greatest enjoyment of Atkinson’s writing has been reading her pre-Jackson Brodie novels, namely Emotionally Weird (which is amazing) and Behind the Scenes at the Museum. These books are just quirky and awesome and felt really fresh and exciting to me, which is not something I can say about her Brodie books. Before you write off Atkinson, I really think you should try one of her non-mystery novels and see if you like her better, because I definitely did!

    • I’m definitely not writing her off just yet! Teresa from Shelf Love (and many others!) has recommended her too highly for me to toss her out because of one only-okay book. πŸ˜€

  12. I too say Behind the Scenes at the Museum! Human Croquet and Emotionally Weird are also good. They are utterly different to Case Histories. Give her another try!

  13. I loved her pre-Jackson Brodie books and really enjoyed Case Histories, but I read them all AGES ago (as in pre-blogging, which means over five years! And I know I read Behind the Scenes at the Museum in high school in Texas, which puts it in 2000-2003 range).

    • Wow, that is a while ago! It’s always a bit weird to me when I reflect on my pre-blogging reading — blogs are useful for reminding me what my impressions were!

  14. I put my read books in a box. Yes. IN A BOX. They are waiting there for better times (when I have more shelves).

    Kate Atkinson is a strange one. I remember I read Behind the scenes at the museum when I was about 19-20 and I loved it. But then I read Case Histories recently and I just don’t know… it was kinda … kinda shit actually… And I don’t know whether ‘Behind the Scenes..’ was actually bad as well but I was too young to see, or whether it was just a better Atkinson. I am afraid to find out because I remember loving it so much.

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