Review: Case Histories

Case Histories
By Kate Atkinson
Little Brown and Company
October 2005

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

A breathtaking story of families divided, love lost and found, and the mysteries of fate.

Case One: Olivia Land, youngest and most beloved of the Land girls, goes missing in the night and is never seen again. Thirty years later, two of her surviving sisters unearth a shocking clue to Olivia’s disappearance among the clutter of their childhood home. . .

Case Two: Theo delights in his daughter Laura’s wit, effortless beauty, and selfless love. But her first day as an associate in his law firm is also the day when Theo’s world turns upside down. . .

Case Three: Michelle looks around one day and finds herself trapped in a hell of her own making. A very needy baby and a very demanding husband make her every waking moment a reminder that somewhere, somehow, she’d made a grave mistake and would spend the rest of her life paying for it–until a fit of rage creates a grisly, bloody escape.

As Private Detective Jackson Brodie investigates all three cases, startling connections and discoveries emerge. Inextricably caught up in his clients grief, joy, and desire, Jackson finds their unshakable need for resolution very much like his own.

*No Spoilers*

The Short of It:

At first glance, Case Histories appears to be a collection of stand-alone stories but as the novel unfolds, they come together to form a very different kind of mystery.

The Rest of It:

Often, I find mysteries to be a bit predictable in nature. For this reason, I typically steer clear of them. However, my book club picked Case Histories for this month and although it’s definitely a mystery, it’s sort of veiled in its delivery. Meaning, it doesn’t hit you over the head with its mysterious-ness.

Each case is, well…a tad shocking. Shocking in that these characters tend to think out loud and their observations and feelings over a particular person, place or thing are so honest that at times, you suck in a breath and say, “Wow.”

I believe the idea was to have the stories alternate, and then eventually mesh into one. This happens, but rather loosely. You aren’t given all the details, but given enough to know what happens by the end of the novel. Although the result was a tad predictable, what happens within each case, is not.

In the end, I’m not sure I liked how the cases came together. I almost like them better as stand-alone stories. As I read each case, I was left wondering about the people within them. As horrible as some of these characters are, I could easily relate to them.  But given the entire situation, I lost the ability to relate to them. Well, some of them.

As you can see, this review is a collection of my rambling thoughts because this reading experience left me rather antsy. It wasn’t a short story collection but in my opinion it didn’t really read like a novel either.

This was my first experience with Atkinson and I found her characters to be deeply conflicted (just the way I like them) but the format left me wanting more. Atkinson has a new novel out, When Will There Be Good News? Has anyone read it?

My book club meets later this week so I’ll share their thoughts in my Sunday Salon post.

Source: Purchased.

18 thoughts on “Review: Case Histories”

  1. Reading the summary I can’t believe I actually read this book since not one single thing sounds familiar to me! It sounds good though! :–) I guess I’ll read it again! :–)

  2. Hmm–I’ve got this one on Mt. TBR; it may just stay there a little longer. I did read “When Will There Be Good News” and, while I liked it, I was not as excited about it as so many other people seem to be.

  3. I actually liked this a lot. The immediate follow-up was ONE GOOD TURN, which I read/reviewed in early 2008. I didn’t like it quite as much, but it seemed to have a degree of satirical humor I didn’t remember from CASE HISTORIES. I’ve been waiting for WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? to come out in paperback so it can officially go into TBR Purgatory.

  4. I’ve had this book for a while but have never read it. I must say your review has piqued my interest, even though your feelings are mixed. I must dig it out of the TBR pile!

  5. It has been years since I read this, so the details are not clear. I do remember liking it, and being pretty affected by the stories and by how they mesh together at the end. A brain teaser really, because I think I knew they might come together but couldn’t figure out how.

  6. This is actually the first in a series of 3 (so far) books and I am a big fan of them, esp. this one and the third. I love how the author is able to weave the storylines together.

  7. I haven’t read Kate Atkinson’s work and have heard her style is quite different. I’m not sure that I’ll like this one but I may give it a try.

  8. It sounds kind of different to me … and a bit intriguing. I would like to see how all these cases tie together. I know it left you a bit cold, but your description made me curious.

  9. I’ve read all her books, and though the ones after case are similar, I think she ties them together better. But her earlier ones are totally different, and not mysteries at all.

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