At one point in One Good Turn, one of Kate Atkinson’s characters, a writer of low-level mysteries, thinks about raising his sights and writing a meaningful novel. (Damn, now I’ve gone and lost the page, but to paraphrase He imagines a book that would tell the story of several different characters whose lives intersect, the introduction of each story containing the seed of the next, and so on. Or something like that. Anyhow, that’s basically what Atkinson has done here, and with great skill and to good effect. One of the jacket comments calls it a “feat of storytelling bravado,” and though if it calls that much attention to itself, the technique is perhaps not as subtle as it ought to be, I didn’t mind at all and was enthralled from the git-go. I’ve only read the much-and-deservedly-acclaimed Case Histories before this, and that some time ago. However, this one may even be better.
We start with a minor–really minor–rear ender in heavy traffic during the Edinburgh play festival. Road rage–extreme–ensues, and we begin to discover connections among several characters in the observing crowd. There’s quite a body count, and many of the characters and their relationships are in exceeding pain. However, Atkinson’s tone is semi-sarcastic, just short of ridicule throughout, and our sympathy for nearly everyone in the novel is sustained throughout. By the end, one might argue that the comedy perhaps even turns a bit too broad and slapstick. One might. But I wouldn’t. I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t either.