Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson
Gangsters, nightclubs, and the glamour of the 1920s – sounded promising. But it’s kind of difficult to believe that this excessive novel came from the same author as my very much loved Life After Life. Shrines lacks the cleverness, the warmth and the humour that I was introduced to in Life. Instead, it felt overworked, with so many characters with detailed back-stories that it was difficult to care for a single one of them. And the info-dumping – ugh (the character of Nellie Coker, is based on Kate Meyrick, the Nightclub Queen). I hope this is merely a blip for Atkinson.
Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
The fourth novel in Strout’s Amgash series is a COVID story. That will no doubt turn some readers away and initially I didn’t know if I’d bother. But, as always with Strout, her stories-within-the story and gentle meanderings between the present and the past are a balm – the reading equivalent of comfort food.
I was thrilled by the mention of Olive and other previous characters but I felt that this book concluded in a way that others in the series hadn’t i.e. very ‘conclusively’. Is this is where we’ll be leaving Lucy et al?
Berlin by Bea Setton
I had very high hopes for this story about 25-year-old Brit, Daphne, who moves to Berlin to learn German. Initially, I enjoyed the accurate details of the city – beautifully incorporated and evocative. It soon becomes apparent that Daphne is an unreliable narrator, and I was still absolutely onboard (wasn’t anticipating a thriller but hey, I was happy to keep reading about picnics at Tempelhofer Feld). However, midway through the book, Setton repeats some unusual circumstances that Daphne finds herself in, and rather than being alarming, it seemed basically highly unlikely. It was all downhill from there.
Berlin has been likened to My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – that’s a stretch in my opinion. Berlin lacks the emotional complexity and compelling inner dialogue of Year and once you understand Daphne as unreliable (and know that her rich parents fund her lifestyle), it’s hard to care much.