I can’t believe it’s over a decade since first I became a fan of Kate Atkinson’s writing when I read Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It’s an absolute thrill today to be part of the blog tour for her latest book Shrines of Gaiety. My enormous thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate by sharing my review.
Shrines of Gaiety was published on 27th September 2022 and is available for purchase here.
Shrines of Gaiety
1926, and in a country still recovering from the Great War, London has become the focus for a delirious new nightlife. In the clubs of Soho, peers of the realm rub shoulders with starlets, foreign dignitaries with gangsters, and girls sell dances for a shilling a time.
At the heart of this glittering world is notorious Nellie Coker, ruthless but also ambitious to advance her six children, including the enigmatic eldest, Niven whose character has been forged in the crucible of the Somme. 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.
With her unique Dickensian flair, Kate Atkinson brings together a glittering cast of characters in a truly mesmeric novel that captures the uncertainty and mutability of life; of a world in which nothing is quite as it seems.
My Review of Shrines of Gaiety
Nellie Coker is newly released from prison.
Oh my goodness. Shrines of Gaiety is sublime and I adored every word.
There’s a wicked razor sharp humour underneath the writing that I loved. Kate Atkinson knows exactly how to convey meaning through acerbic asides that give her writing a vivacity and appeal and make the reader feel she is writing exclusively for them. This has the effect of drawing in the reader and making them an almost active participant in the narrative. I lost count of the number of times I laughed aloud at some aside or reference. The literary and historical allusions sprinkled throughout the narrative are a treasure trove of jewels, delighting the reader and adding an extra dimension to the story that makes it sparkle every bit as much as one of Nellie’s nightclubs.
The plot has several fascinating threads, such as Nellie’s threat from gangster rivals and Gwendolyn’s search for Freda and Florence alongside huge dollops of treachery and corruption as Freda searches for fame and fortune, but in effect the plot is secondary to the magnificent exploration of class, manners and society beneath London’s thin veneer of civilisation so that The Shrines of Gaiety is a brilliant social commentary. In her presentation of the post war Roaring Twenties, Kate Atkinson explores family, loyalty, betrayal, sexuality, fate, organised crime, morality, the role of women and so much more in a veritable kaleidoscope of literary brilliance. I read Shrines of Gaiety with a huge smile on my face because it felt such a treat to be immersed in this world.
The settings and characters are absolutely glorious. I adored the early, exquisite histories that provide the backstories to the main characters. Of course Nellie takes centre stage as the keystone of the story, but she is just one of a cornucopia of fabulous people that populate this narrative. I thought the manner with which the author interwove their stories like some kind of mycelium network was inspired, especially as it meant some surprises along the way too. The characterisation is so astute, peeling back the layers of London society and revealing what lies beneath its glittering surface.
It’s so hard to review Shrines of Gaiety without spoiling the pleasure in reading it for others but I think it is a modern classic that will endure across the decades. It’s a delicious book and I loved it. Shrines of Gaiety is one of my favourite reads this year.
About Kate Atkinson
Kate Atkinson is one of the world’s foremost novelists. She won the Costa Book of the Year prize with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Her three critically lauded and prize-winning novels set around the Second World War are Life After Life, an acclaimed 2022 BBC TV series starring Thomasin McKenzie, A God in Ruins (both winners of the Costa Novel Award) and Transcription.
Her bestselling literary crime novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie, Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News? and Started Early, Took My Dog, became a BBC television series starring Jason Isaacs. Jackson Brodie later returned in the novel Big Sky. Kate Atkinson was awarded an MBE in 2011 and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.