Kate Atkinson, Case Histories. Back Bay Books. 310 pages. 2004. $13.99;
Philip Roth, The Dying Animal. Vintage International. 156 pages. 2001. $12.95
Reading Atkinson and Roth back-to-back was a good decision even though I hadn't thought about it beforehand. One book, Atkinson, is a mystery but also a novel; and Roth is a pure novel with a lot of mystery around it.
While Atkinson employs a significant number of developed characters in her presentation; Roth sticks with a few well developed ones.
While Atkinson's characters are involved in a rather complex set of events in which they almost touch each other; Roth keeps his characters in a rather narrow, very directed outcome.
While Atkinson is at the first episode of her writing career, a career that is sure to grow, at least I hope; Roth is certainly not at the beginning of his writing career, being in his '70s, but, he doesn't appear to be slowing down.
While the Atkinson book is a sure fire winner and is an easy one to recommend for others to read; you have to read Roth's full presentation to make the same referral.
At first you think that Atkinson was giving the reader a lot of case histories, which may or may not connect. She really knows how to shock the reader within a few pages. But, that is quickly put to rest as she employs a detective, Jackson Brodie, to be the glue for the mysteries in the book. It is interesting that the more I read the mysteries the more I thought I was reading a great novel with a mystery overlay. In fact, some of the endorsements including on the back cover made the same revelation.
This is the first book I've read of Atkinson. Previous books as is this one, reportedly involve only woman playing key roles. In this book, she inserted a strong male character for the first time.
As with Roth's books, you have to hold on as her characters are moving through their complicated lives. But, add the humor, humor that truly has you laughing out loud, that she clearly naturally has, makes her book even more special.
The Dying Animal
Roth's book, as moviegoers know, has been made into a film, Elegy. Reading the book, and Roth's characters which are as usual, highly developed, you can actually visualize the actors chosen to be the professor, Ben Kingsley; the young student, Penelope Cruz; the former student, Pat Clarkson; and the professor's son, Peter Scarsgaard. I haven't seen the film, but knowing these actors, actually makes the reading all the more enjoyable.
As with almost all Roth books, the upfront sexual relations of the main characters often leaves the reader speechless. And, at one point, you find yourself saying, "why I am reading this book?" The professor/writer is particularly hard to take. This is often a refrain when reading a Roth book. But, at that point, the human drama overtakes the often-crude display of sex by the professor and the other characters.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Roth book without some politics. Cuban émigrés in New Jersey get some focus as only Roth can do it.
Both Atkinson and Roth, in these books, have strong woman in center of their books.