OurBookClub


Life After Life
Case Histories
One Good Turn
When Will There be Good News?
Started Early, Took My Dog

Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonBook Cover of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization. Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant—this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions . (From the publisher.) Click here to read the full book review.


1. Ursula Todd gets to live out many different realities, something that’s impossible in real life. Though there is an array of possibilities that form Ursula’s alternate histories, do you think any and all futures are possible in Ursula’s world, or are there certain parameters within which each life is lived?
2. As time goes on, Ursula learns more about her ability to restart her life—and she often changes course accordingly, but she doesn’t always correct things. Why not? Do you think Ursula ever becomes completely conscious of her ability to relive and redo her lives? If so, at what point in the story do you think that happens? And what purpose do you think she sets for herself once she figures it out?
3. Do people’s choices have the power to change destiny? How do you think Ursula’s choices are either at odds with or in line with the ideas of fate and destiny throughout the story
4. Do you think Ursula’s ability to relive her life over and over is a gift or a curse? How do you think Ursula looks at it? Do you think she is able to embrace the philosophy amor fati ("love of fate," "acceptance") in the end?
5. Small moments often have huge ramifications in Ursula’s life. Do you think certain moments are more crucial than others in the way Ursula’s life develops? Why, and which moments?
5. Life After Life encapsulates both the big picture (the sweep of major global historical events) and the small picture (the dynamics of Ursula’s loving, quirky family). How are these pictures tied together? When do Ursula’s decisions affect the big picture more, or the small picture more? When do they affect both?
6. How does Atkinson portray gender throughout the story? How does she comment on the gender roles of this time period, and which characters challenge those roles—and how?
1. How does Atkinson’s humor pepper the story? In what ways is she able to bring a bit of comedy to her characters and their stories as relief from the serious and dark subject matter?
7. How do the various relationships within the Todd family shape the story? What is the significance of maternal bonds and sibling bonds in the story?
1. How does Atkinson capture the terror and tragedy of the Blitz? How does war become its own character in the book? What type of commentary does Atkinson make on the English approach to war? Why do you think Atkinson portrayed one of Ursula’s lives in Germany, experiencing war and the bombing from the opposing side?
8. On page 379, Ursula faces a bleak end in Germany with her daughter, Frieda. She chooses death over life for the first time, saying, “Something had cracked and broken and the order of things had changed.” What do you think she means by that? Is this a significant turning point to Ursula’s story? Do you think the end of this life affects her decisions in other lives that follow?
9. On page 354, Klara says, “Hindsight’s a wonderful thing. If we all had it there would be no history to write about.” Do you think this is true? In what ways does the use of hindsight come to pass in the book?
10. On page 277, Ralph asks Ursula if she could have killed Hitler as a baby, and Ursula thinks, “If I thought it would save Teddy…. Not just Teddy, of course, the rest of the world, too.” Do you think Ursula ultimately had to choose between saving Teddy and saving “the rest of the world”? If so, why did she choose as she did? And was she able to save either?
11. Life continues to restart over and over for Ursula and the Todd family, and outcomes vary greatly each time. What happens to the characters changes drastically in many of the versions. Do you feel the characters change just as drastically, in terms of who they are and what they are like? Or do you think they fundamentally stay the same? Ursula learns many things about life and its progression, but does she herself change over the course of the book?
12. What are the biggest questions this book raised for you? How did it change the way you think about the course of your own life?

These questions are provided by the Publisher.

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Case Histories by Kate AtkinsonBook Cover of Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

A triumphant new novel from award-winner Kate Atkinson: a breathtaking story of families divided, love lost and found, and the mysteries of fate. Case One: Olivia Land, youngest and most beloved of the Land girls, goes missing in the night and is never seen again. Thirty years later, two of her surviving sisters unearth a shocking clue to Olivia's disappearance among the clutter of their childhood home... Case Two: Theo delights in his daughter Laura's wit, effortless beauty, and selfless love. But her first day as an associate in his law firm is also the day when Theo's world turns upside down... Case Three: Michelle looks around one day and finds herself trapped in a hell of her own making. A very needy baby and a very demanding husband make her every waking moment a reminder that somewhere, somehow, she'd made a grave mistake and would spend the rest of her life paying for it—until a fit of rage creates a grisly, bloody escape. As Private Detective Jackson Brodie investigates all three cases, startling connections and discoveries emerge. Inextricably caught up in his clients grief, joy, and desire, Jackson finds their unshakable need for resolution very much like his own. Kate Atkinson's celebrated talent makes for a novel that positively sparkles with surprise, comedy, tragedy, and constant, page-turning delight (these comments are from the Publisher). Click here to read the full book review.


1. The three cases that open Case Histories are at first quite separate, and leave you wondering how Atkinson is going to pull it all together into one story. You might discuss whether she is successful at doing that—and how.
2. Case Histories has three unsolved crimes and has a private eye as hero. Kate Atkinson is known as a 'literary writer' and won the Whitbread Prize for her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. How is Case Histories different from a traditional detectvie novel—or is it?
3. Jackson believes "that his job was to help people be good rather than punish them for being bad." Another discussion point would be whether you think he is a moral character, and how you feel the revelation of the tragedy in his own past illuminates his actions in the novel.
4. To Jackson, it seems as if everyone he encounters has lost someone or something. One of Kate Atkinson's recurrent themes is that of lost children. In spite of her wicked sense of humour, she creates an overwhelming sense of tension in this novel. Is it that this theme speaks directly to the lost child deep inside every one of us?
5. "Novels gave you a completely false idea about life, they told lies and the implied there were endings when in reality there were no endings, everything just went on and on and on." Is Kate Atkinson being mischievous here, or is this statement true of this novel?

These questions are provided by Transworld Publisher.

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One Good Turn by Kate AtkinsonBook Cover of One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

It is summer, it is the Edinburgh Festival. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road-rage incident — a near-homicidal attack which changes the lives of everyone involved: the wife of an unscrupulous property developer, a crime writer, a washed-up comedian. Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, ex-private detective, is also an innocent bystander — until he becomes a murder suspect. Stephen King called Case Histories the best mystery of the decade: One Good Turn sees the return of its irresistible hero Jackson Brodie. As the body count mounts, each character's story contains a kernel of the next, like a set of nesting Russian dolls. Everyone in the teeming Dickensian cast is looking for love or money or redemption or escape: but what each actually discovers is their own true self. Click here to read the full book review.


1. Kate Atkinson has said that Gloria "is the moral center of the book." Did you find this to be true? Do you think that a novel with so many irreverent characters requires a moral center?
2. During Gloria's discussion with Tatiana she realizes, "It was strange how something you weren't expecting could, nonetheless, turn out to be no surprise at all" (page 78). To what extent are the characters in One Good Turn expecting the predicaments that befall them?
3. Atkinson writes, "Once, the eye of God watched people, now it was the camera lens" (page 28). How does technology figure into Jackson's investigation? How does the "camera" compete with religion as a deterrent from illegal behavior?
4. Early on, Martin Canning, an innocent bystander, successfully stops the road-rage assault only to become the assailant's next target. Do you agree with Martin's decision? Would you do the same if you were in his position?
5. At the beginning of One Good Turn, we meet a changed Jackson Brodie—instead of working as a private detective in England, as he did in Case Histories, he lives in France as a retired millionaire and is dating Julia. How does this sea change affect Jackson's outlook? What about him would you like to change in Kate Atkinson's next novel?
6. While Jackson and Julia first appeared in Case Histories, Atkinson introduces several new characters in One Good Turn. Which new character did you enjoy the most?
7. Discuss the novel's title. Do you think the adage from which it is derived influences the characters' behavior?
8. Jackson is described as a man who "had money and behaved as if he hadn't," while Julia "never had any money, yet she always behaved as if she had" (page 36). Do all the characters share this complicated relationship with money? How does greed affect their actions?
9. One Good Turn is set during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, one of the largest arts festivals in the world. How does this unique setting serve as a backdrop for the events that transpire?
10. Several unexpected friendships are forged during the novel—Jackson and Martin, Gloria and Tatiana. How important are these new friendships to the story? Are there two characters in One Good Turn who did not meet and whom you hoped would cross paths?

These questions are provided by the Publisher.

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When Will There be Good News? by Kate AtkinsonBook Cover of When Will There be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

Thirty years ago, six-year-old Joanna witnessed the brutal murders of her mother, brother and sister, before escaping into a field, and running for her life. Now, the man convicted of the crime is being released from prison, meaning Dr. Joanna Hunter has one more reason to dwell on the pain of that day, especially with her own infant son to protect. Sixteen-year-old Reggie, recently orphaned and wise beyond her years, works as a nanny for Joanna Hunter, but has no idea of the woman’s horrific past. All Reggie knows is that Dr. Hunter cares more about her baby than life itself, and that the two of them make up just the sort of family Reggie wished she had: that unbreakable bond, that safe port in the storm. When Dr. Hunter goes missing, Reggie seems to be the only person who is worried, despite the decidedly shifty business interests of Joanna’s husband, Neil, and the unknown whereabouts of the newly freed murderer, Andrew Decker. Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is looking for a missing person of her own, murderer David Needler, whose family lives in terror that he will return to finish the job he started. So it’s not surprising that she listens to Reggie’s outrageous thoughts on Dr. Hunter’s disappearance with only mild attention. But when ex-police officer and Private Investigator, Jackson Brodie arrives on the scene, with connections to Reggie and Joanna Hunter of his own, the details begin tosnap into place. And, as Louise knows, once Jackson is involved there’s no telling how many criminal threads he will be able to pull together — or how many could potentially end up wrapped around his own neck. In an extraordinary virtuoso display, Kate Atkinson has produced one of the most engrossing, masterful, and piercingly insightful novels of this or any year. It is also as hilarious as it is heartbreaking, as Atkinson weaves in and out of the lives of her eccentric, grief-plagued, and often all-too-human cast. Yet out of the excesses of her characters and extreme events that shake their worlds comes a relatively simple message, about being good, loyal, and true. When Will There Be Good News? shows us what it means to survive the past and the present, and to have the strength to just keep on keeping on. Click here to read the full book review.


1. Kate Atkinson is an author formerly known as a prize-winning literary writer, but with the three Jackson Brodie novels, she has introduced elements of the traditional crime novel. What do you think turns a novel into a "crime" novel? Don’t all good novels that catch the public imagination have elements of the crime novel: a sense of suspense, a mystery, a violent death or two? What crime novel conventions can you discern in this book?
2. Kate Atkinson always creates very strong female characters. What do you think about the women in this novel – Dr Hunter, Reggie, Louise? And what about the men: are they generally weaker than the women, and does this make it a feminist novel?
3. The initial tragedy that opens the books is reminiscent of familiar high-profile news stories. What is it about those cases of random violence that make them so very haunting? Does it have something to do with the fact that when mothers are attacked they can’t run, because they feel the need to stay and protect their children?
4. Similarly, it would appear that Kate Atkinson used the Selby train crash as the inspiration for the train crash in the novel. Discuss the impact of these tragedies on the nation’s morale. Do you think Kate speaks for us all when she asks When Will There Be Good News?
5. Jackson Brodie believes that "there are no rules. There isn’t a template we’re supposed to follow. We make it up as we go along." Do you feel this statement also applies to Kate Atkinson’s writing – and to real life itself?
6. "How ironic that both Julia and Louise, the two women he’d felt closest to in his recent past, had both unexpectedly got married, and neither of them to him." Do you think Kate Atkinson should ever allow Jackson Brodie to have a successful romantic relationship? Why do you think he is such an appealing character?
7. Jackson Brodie believes that "a coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen." Discuss the coincidences in the novel. Do they make the story seem more or less real? If Kate Atkinson had written a conventional crime novel, would it be as appropriate to use coincidence to move the plot forward?
8. There are "good" characters and "evil" characters in the novel, but Kate Atkinson is rarely black and white in her portrayal of either. Louise, Reggie and Jackson Brodie are essentially good, but will break the law to achieve the right result. What is the moral code at work in the novel?
9. "As in the best crime fiction, dramatic events and unexpected twists abound, but Atkinson subverts the genre by refusing to neatly tie up every thread." (From the UK's Independent). Did you notice any loose threads in the plot?
10. The British pride themselves on their dry wit in the face of adversity. Despite the bleakness of the subject matter and the streak of sadness running through the novel, Kate Atkinson’s writing is often very funny. What did you find humorous about the book, and do you think that it’s a particularly British sort of humour?

These questions are provided by the Publisher.

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Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate AtkinsonBook Cover of Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life as a retired police detective—a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. Both appear miserable and better off without each other—or so decides Tracy, in a snap decision that surprises herself as much as Kelly. Suddenly burdened with a small child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge. Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, the beloved detective of novels such as Case Histories, is embarking on a different sort of rescue—that of an abused dog. Dog in tow, Jackson is about to learn, along with Tracy, that no good deed goes unpunished. Click here to read the full book review.


1. “For want of a nail the shoe was lost / For want of a shoe the horse was lost . . .” How do you think this traditional proverb, quoted by Kate Atkinson before the start of the novel, relates to what happens in Started Early, Took My Dog?
2. Another epigraph quotes Peter Sutcliffe, suggesting that this novel was partly inspired by the 1970s Yorkshire Ripper. Are there any other true crime cases that come to mind that resonate with the stories in this book?
3. A reviewer called this a “state of the nation novel — far sharper and more observant and satirically understanding than anything else out there at the moment.” Do you agree, and if so, what did the novel reveal for you about Britain today?
4. This is the fourth Jackson Brodie novel. What qualities make the former police detective so attractive to readers? And would you want to see him appear in another novel after this?
5. Another reviewer called Kate Atkinson “possibly the only author writing crime fiction that is also literary fiction alive today.” What are the elements that turn Started Early, Took My Dog into crime fiction, and what are its literary features? And do you agree with the way fiction is commonly classified into these separate genres by the critics, and also in libraries and bookshops?
6. On an impulse, Tracy Waterhouse buys little Courtney for a wad of cash from a woman she assumes to be her mother, after witnessing her behaving abusively toward the child. What do you think of Tracy’s motives, and do you think this kind of unusual transaction could ever be morally justified?
7. How do Courtney and Tracy change each other’s lives, and in what ways are they important to one another? How does their relationship compare to Jackson’s relationship with the dog?
8. The book alternates between telling part of the story in the 1970s and part of the story in the present day. What has changed between what was going on in the seventies in the police force and what is going on now? What is the same? How does Atkinson weave these two time periods together?
9. The characters in Started Early, Took My Dog are all tied to the past in different ways; some are held victim to it, but no one can escape it. How does the past influence the present lives of the characters in the book?
10. Discuss the role of guilt in the novel, and how it affects different people (e.g., Barry Crawford, Len Lomax, Ray Strickland, and Linda Pallister).
11. Sexism is an issue that shows itself in many forms throughout the novel, particularly in the police force in the 1970s. What type of sexism did Tracy and the other female characters face? How is that reflected in the way female prostitutes and female victims are portrayed in the book? Were you able to see past the sexism of some of the characters in the novel?
12. Kate Atkinson’s novels have often featured lost or abandoned children. Discuss the role of the lost girls — Courtney and Hope McMaster — in Started Early, Took My Dog. How do they relate to the other lost girls in Jackson’s own life?
13. Many of the women in the novel have no children of their own, for various reasons. How does each character manage her desire to have children, or her struggles when she loses her children?
14. The title is taken from a poem by Emily Dickinson, a poet Jackson Brodie has recently discovered, and it ends with another Dickinson poem, “Hope.” Why do you think Kate Atkinson decided to finish on this note?

These questions are provided by the Publisher.

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