Admittedly, it’s difficult for me to write an unbiased review of a Kate Atkinson novel. When I received this book from NetGalley, I immediately tweeted “she is our greatest living author, don’t @ me”, which – I actually wish someone would “@” me, because I’m more than happy to explain all the ways Atkinson is brilliant (almost terrifying so).
My favourite books of Atkinson’s are Life After Life and A God in Ruins (the latter absolutely shattered me – I think I cried enough to fill oceans), but I do so love her Jackson Brodie series for its sly wit and the river of devastation running beneath its surfaces. Big Sky is a worthy entry into the Brodie lexicon, and her best since Case Histories.
A mystery at its core, with thousands of tiny threads that come together to form a very messy, very real tapestry of human misery and joy and rotten, ruined hopes, Big Sky is about the sex trade, about families and the way they disappoint us, about exploitation and greed, and how where men fall, women rise up.
Brodie is hiding out on the coast, working as a private investigator. It’s the usual stuff – cheating husbands, cheating wives, icky individuals on the Internet, and perhaps a stolen item or two or three. He’s clearly bored, but he’s also clearly enjoying the chance to spend more time with his son Nathan – a miserable, stroppy, absolutely delightful teenager – their interactions are such comic gold that I laughed out loud numerous times. Big Sky is inarguably hilarious, in that perfectly dry British way –
She was a self-described Christian, born-again or something like that (once was enough, surely?)
That’s the thing about Kate Atkinson – one minute you’re flinching, the next you’re audibly snorting. It’s a roller coaster.
In true Brodie fashion, our erstwhile detective stumbles upon a human trafficking ring in the sleepy little coastal town, and the tension ratchets up and up, until it seems everything will explode, sending bombs across the sea. What’s singularly arresting about the central mystery is that the crimes go back decades and have such miserable arrows running from their centres – you can only imagine how much pain and suffering has been spread. Some bits made my stomach hurt (“the passion wagon”, “parties”, “the two sisters”, “the disappeared, gone where no flashlights could illuminate”), and it’s a testament to Atkinson’s power that the novel isn’t merely depressing – rather, I put it down with a sense of wounds bandaged by glorious retribution.
Don’t mistake me – the subject matter is raw and the kind of subtle that makes you wish for a novelist with less grace (sometimes, the less graphic things are, the more the imagination fills in the horrifying blanks). But still, it’s there – subterranean but mighty – like a sword or axe or queen – the female. The strength. The eyes meeting. Warrior to warrior. Survivor to survivor.
Where men fall, women rise.
With as much power, as much grit, as the big blue sky.
Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!