Book: Not the End of the World
Author: Kate Atkinson
Bookhad Rating: ❤❤❤❤❤
Kate Atkinson is the author of the 2013 novel Life After Life which was shortlisted as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review. And that is how I stumbled on Kate Atkinson’s work. To be fair, I have to give credit to The Girl Who Reads Menus for handing me the paperback of Not the End of the World after I gave her a copy of Life After Life. To be even more righteous, Life After Life was given to me by a close friend. You see how Kate Atkinson has travelled? Close friend > Me > Girl Who Reads Menus > Me > You. This, I think, is the nobility of the reading class (I’d like to address us so). We don’t hoard beauty. We don’t hide good literature. We don’t steal glances while stuffing away an extraordinary book; we show off and recommend it from rooftops. We pass on texts that touch us, sometimes fervently encouraging a fellow reader to read what we loved. We give what we love. If this is not heaven, please tell me what is?
I can summarize my experience of reading Kate Atkinson’s collection of 12 short stories Not The End of the World in one word – outstanding. The book starts off with twins Charlene and Trudi who go shopping and make furious lists of everything from tea to perfume to cloth to dogs. While they are at it, the world around them is collapsing; animals from zoos are abound, bombs explode, people die while they talk sipping on green tea. Reading the first short story, Charlene and Trudi Go Shopping, should set you up for the other 11 stories. You know you have to expect the unexpected at every turn. Atkinson makes one suspend the need for logic in a story. All her stories are peppered with magic, numerous references to Greek gods and their presence, interaction with animals, and even the consciously impossible.
The stories range from a young governess accompanying a boy on an international trip in Unseen Translation to the discord in a family in Dissonance to the abandonment of a bastard in Sheer Big Waste of Love. You’re also treated to office interactions of an English boy in Evil Doppelgänger and the doubts of an American girlfriend about her English boyfriend in Transparent Fiction. And you know what’s the fun? The fun is when you realise how cleverly these stories are linked. Once you are done with first half of the book, reading the second half is like connecting the dots. Without giving away how, I will assure you that all these stories are associated in more ways than one. They were not written in silos. Each story is woven with another, and that is the beauty of this anthology. It was almost as if she wrote a complete novel.
Atkinson’s use of mythology across all stories is striking. Her stories are laced with all the Greek gods possible. In Temporal Anomaly a woman is taken over by Hades’s chariot while speeding down a highway. In Tunnel of Fish a boy’s mother recalls a memory of being dragged to the bottom of the Aegean Sea only to be raped by Poseidon. In this collection, humans and Gods interact with each other as they would in the myths we have read. Additionally, almost all of Atkinson’s characters are huge fans of Buffy the Vampire slayer and there are many references to Star Trek.
Not the End of the World is one of the smartest, funniest and fascinating books I have read in recent times. It starts and ends with two stories about Charlene and Trudi – Charlene and Trudi Go Shopping and Pleasureland – which act as bookends to this wonderful book. Apart from savouring these wonderful stories, Kate Atkinson has undone many of the limitations in my head, as a writer. In fact, she would liberate you as a reader too. She has been unbounded in this book, but it’s far from crass.
Not the End of the World is intelligent, very intelligent writing.
“From now on,” Trudi said, “I want only good, simple things. A bushel of russet apples, a truckle of Cheddar cheese, a firkin of blood-red wine. Clean linen sheets, rinsed in lavender water and then dried in the sun and the wind on an old-fashioned rope in an orchard. A good book, a small dog, a single strand of pearls.” – Pleasureland by Kate Atkinson
P.S.: I loved this book so much that I wrote a poem on it On Reading Atkinson.