Lost Daughters

Tessa Hadley

  • Case Histories: A Novel by Kate Atkinson
    Doubleday, 304 pp, £16.99, September 2004, ISBN 0 385 60799 7

The world of Kate Atkinson’s novels is distinctive. This isn’t because it’s confined to a particular place (Behind the Scenes at the Museum, 1995, her first novel, was set in York, her others in ‘Arden’, Dundee and Cambridge), although geography is important, and she is precise about history, socio-economics, climate, architecture and even street-plans. What’s consistent is a texture: familial, claustrophobic, everyday, teeming with dysfunctional characters, and rendered with an equivocal sensuality. Everything is felt on the skin, smelled, tasted; the world invades consciousness through the characters’ helplessly responsive senses, and this is at once exhilarating and disgusting. Intelligence, mostly possessed by unhappy girls, doesn’t guarantee immunity: they are bundled into scratchy, tight clothes (a ‘liberty bodice securely strapped to her still cherub-new skin … white cotton socks which cut her fat little legs in half’) and have to eat ‘watery scrambled eggs, like lemon vomit’. Sex is seen as part of this sensual excess; it’s not transformative or transcendent.

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