I’ll say at the outset that Left Early, Took My Dog wins the 2012 WW best title award. It’s early, so I may run across something to match it, but I doubt it. The last notable—Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River (WW July, 2010)—was a great moniker whose book failed to live up to its cover. Not so Left Early.
I do believe I’ve read all of Kate Atkinson’s novels and loved them all. I recently happened on a PBS miniseries based on When Will There Be Good News, which was okay.
But this is my first dose of a printed page something new and original from her in–well it turns out to be only a little over a year, but it seems like three or five. It was like receiving a second present to walk into the book store to spend my Christmas gift card and see her name staring at me from the New Fiction rack.
Dog returns us to Jackson Brodie, of course, our hapless cop/private eye whom we last saw when he lost his identity and nearly his life in a train wreck. Only to survive and have brand new bride disappear with his hefty inheritance.
Here, we don’t encounter him till many pages in. Atkinson exercises her supreme skill at weaving disparate times, characters, and location in a way that makes totally unrelated events and people seem to be part of the same narrative. Which, in fact, they are. Other writers do this, but not like she does. Even though the book slides back and forth between the 70’s and 2010 and various points in between, we never feel jarred or confused or cheated in the sense that the author is withholding information simply for the purpose of shocking or tricking us. Nothing so lazy as that for Lady Kate. (Would she be offended at a title like that? Probably, but she’s literary royalty in my book, so there.)
Instead, we feel we’re on a voyage of discovery up a river with an experienced guide, looking for the source, and each fork is a new adventure that could lead to the wellspring or a dead end. Or, to put it another way, we are in the process of assembling a puzzle, and each new piece fills in a blank that has simply been waiting for something of that particular shape to come along and complete some portion of the image.
If you deconstruct the basic plot, it’s rather conventional. No pyrotechnics of note, though there’s plenty of suspense. But the elements that would be gimmicky or mere color in the hands of many authors become organic, essential for Kate. Like the dog. And that’s what makes her special.
Oh, and the depth of her characters. Like the wonderful Tilly, through whose experience we understand a little of what the onset of dementia must be like. Or Jackson himself, who wanders around with the voices of several women—ex-wives—in his head and the body of none (who matter) in his bed.
Or the narrative’s embedded sorrow for and protest against the daily brutality we commit against women and children.
And then… oh, quit reading my comments about this book and go read the book itself. Much better use of your time.