Books: Case Histories

I read Case Histories because it is the selection for this month’s meeting of the book club I recently joined. If not for that, I might have quit reading after the first few chapters. There were no characters I really liked or cared about, and the story seemed to jump all over the place. After I finished it, I realized that I won’t be attending this month’s meeting because I have a handchimes choir rehearsal. I’m not sure if I’m relieved or disappointed I won’t be part of the discussion.

Through most of the book, I would have rated it two stars (out of five). Neither the characters nor the storyline really held my interest to any great extent. It finished somewhat better, and I might consider giving it three stars for a somewhat satisfactory conclusion. But I am not sure I would really recommend it to anyone. I am somewhat mystified that Stephen King considered it not just the best novel of the year but of the decade and defies “any reader not to feel a combination of delight and amazement.” Well, Mr. King, I didn’t. Of course, I’ve never read any of King’s novels, so I suppose he and I probably have different ideas of what makes a good novel.

One of the reader reviews at amazon.com says “You will not like this novel if: –You want a slam-bang action thriller with little or no introspection by the characters. …” Well, no, I don’t want a slam-bang action thrilled with little or no introspection. I appreciate introspection. But I appreciate it more from people who are not as messed up as nearly everyone in this book. The same review adds that it will not appeal to you if “you’d rather not read about incest, (occasional) casual sex, and dysfunctional families with parents who seem incapable of giving love.” I won’t decide against a book just because it includes those aspects, but when they predominate, I fail to find much of value in the book.

I know that dysfunctional families are probably more common than “normal” families; some say that every family is dysfunctional in some way, and I would not disagree – because families are made up of people and people are all dysfunctional (i.e. sinful). But not every family has parents incapable of giving love, to their children or to each other. The only family that didn’t seem lacking in that regard was one where the wife had died a long time ago. One of the central characters seems to genuinely love his daughter, but his family would have to be considered pretty dysfunctional since his wife left him for another man and there is no love left between the girl’s parents.

All in all, it’s a pretty depressing society that Kate Atkinson describes. Two characters that seemed to feel they had nothing to live for do find hope at the end of the book, in the love of another person (though I find it hard to be too thrilled that one of them finds it in a lesbian relationship when she joins a group of “naturalists” – i.e. nudists). But I would hate to be a character in Atkinson’s book, with what she seems to consider normal (i.e. typical) in human relationships.

Am I a prude for disliking the book for its crudeness in terms of sex (and perhaps language – it’s hard for me to say since it takes place in England and I don’t know just how “crude” some of the slang is considered)? My 12th grade history teacher told me I was a prude for not liking the stories in The Canterbury Tales. (Or was it The Decameron? I didn’t care for those stories either.) I tried not to let my opinion of the book rest on that aspect of it, but considering how much of the book is concerned with people having sex, wishing they were having sex, or remembering previous sexual encounter (usually bad ones), it’s hard to ignore.

And since I’m not sure I want to get into this discussion with a group of people I just met last month, perhaps it’s just as well I’m not going to the book club meeting this month.

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