Not the End of the World

Not the EndI’ve set myself a small informal project of getting caught up with previous books by some of my favorite authors who don’t have unreasonably long backlists. That basically means Kate Atkinson and Sarah Waters. I’ve read all but a couple of their books, so it’s something I could accomplish by the end of this year.

For Atkinson, I’d read all of her books except Human Croquet and her story collection Not the End of the World. I’ve had Not the End of the World on my shelves for a few years, so that’s where I started. It was okay. Good, not great. Atkinson is a master of the novel, and these stories, while good, do not show her at her best, nor to they show the form at its best.

I’ve noticed that a lot of short stories these days seem to be set in our world, but not. I’m thinking, for instance, of George Saunders’s stories in Tenth of December. Atkinson’s stories seem to be set in the near future (or the near past now, given that the collection was published in 2002). People watch Buffy and Star Trek: Voyager, and lots of people seem interested in Greek mythology. It seems possible to mate with a God in human form, and a receptionist keeps a submachine gun under her desk. It’s the end of the world–or not.

The stories are linked together, but each one stands alone. A major character in one story might be referenced in another. The final story provides the ultimate linking up, as we see all the stories come together in a final image that’s dark and sad and a little funny, as is typical with Atkinson.  But beyond that, it’s not important to be able to see all the connections. It’s just nice to see a familiar name pop up two stories later.

I don’t have much to say overall about these stories. They’re all varying degrees of odd, populated with families that can’t quite connect and people finding themselves in unexpected situations. To explain what happens in them would spoil them, as a lot of the pleasure is in seeing the situation unfold. They’re good stories and probably a little better as a group than on their own. If you’re looking to try Atkinson, I’d recommend starting with a novel instead, probably either Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Life After Lifeor Case Histories, depending on what appeals to you most.

This entry was posted in Fiction, Short Stories/Essays, Speculative Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Not the End of the World

  1. Jeanne says:

    I will avoid these, as I read one K.A. novel so far and didn’t care for it—but it wasn’t one of the ones you mention here.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve read everything except Human Croquet and enjoyed them all to varying degrees, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them all to most people. Emotionally Weird, for example, thoroughly delighted me, but I can see it annoying a lot of people.

  2. Denise says:

    Yes, I would agree the ones you recommend are better!

    • Teresa says:

      Those are the ones I generally recommend because they offer some of her quirky dark humor without being as over-the-top as Emotionally Weird, which I think is my favorite.

  3. That sounds like an excellent reading project! I keep thinking I’ll do a project where I go back through my blog archives looking for authors whose work I enjoyed but never followed up on, and see what else those authors have written that I’ve not read.

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