Shrines of Gaiety

Top Ten contributor Kate Atkinson is receiving strong reviews for her latest novel, Shrines of Gaiety.

The year is 1926, the height of Jazz Age London. The setting is the delirious new nightlife scene pulsing in the clubs of Soho, where peers of the realm rub shoulders with starlets, foreign dignitaries with gangsters, and girls sell dances for a shilling a time. The featured player is the notorious queen of this glittering world, Nellie Coker, who seeks to advance her six children, including the enigmatic eldest, Niven, whose character has been forged in the crucible of the Somme during World War I. But success breeds enemies, and Nellie’s empire faces threats from without and within. For beneath the dazzle of Soho’s gaiety, there is a dark underbelly, a world in which it is all too easy to become lost, especially for young girls who go missing while seeking a better life.

“Pungent with period detail sifted from contemporary accounts—the cocktails, the drugs, the clothes – Shrines of Gaiety sees Atkinson on her finest form since the chronological shenanigans of her Costa-winning sliding-doors saga Life After Life (2013),” Anthony Cummins writes in the Guardian. “A marvel of plate-spinning narrative knowhow, not to mention a throwback in an era of I-fixated autofiction, it uses more than a dozen fully inhabited characters to propel a rompy panorama that nonetheless keeps in sight the pole-axing cruelty at the book’s heart: the traffic and exploitation of girls whom ‘no one would miss,’ as someone says, and who aren’t, as someone else puts it, ‘the kind that a jury will believe.’”

In her New York Times review, Leah Grenblatt observes: “Atkinson vividly conjures the post-Great War London of a century ago, a vast stinking metropolis still teetering between the old world and the new. It’s also a place so bent on burying its mass trauma in a sort of collective, hectic hedonism that one-character wonders whether they weren’t ‘following some instinctive compulsion to restock the human race. Like frogs.’”

Ellen Akins adds to the chorus of praise in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “Wonderfully balanced between the literary bravura of novels like Life After Life and the more mundane but ample pleasures of her Jackson Brodie mysteries, Kate Atkinson's Shrines of Gaiety puts a cast of irresistible characters into an intriguingly convoluted plot set in post-World War I London, wafts a Shakespearean air of antic enchantment over the proceedings, and keeps you guessing till the end—even as something tells you everything will be all right. Mostly.”

 

Kate Atkinson’s Top Ten List

1. Persuasion by Jane Austen (1817).
2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865).
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813).
4. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871–72).
5. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881).
6. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969).
7. Pricksongs & Descants by Robert Coover (1969).
8. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1961).
9. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).
10. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit (1906).