When Will There Be Good News?
On a hot summer day, Joanna Mason’s family slowly wanders home along a country lane. A moment later, Joanna’s life is changed forever…
On a dark night thirty years later, ex-detective Jackson Brodie finds himself on a train that is both crowded and late. Lost in his thoughts, he suddenly hears a shocking sound…
At the end of a long day, 16-year-old Reggie is looking forward to watching a little TV. Then a terrifying noise shatters her peaceful evening. Luckily, Reggie makes it a point to be prepared for an emergency…
These three lives come together in unexpected and deeply thrilling ways in the latest novel from Kate Atkinson, the critically acclaimed author who Harlan Coben calls “an absolute must-read.”
Kate Atkinson lives in Edinburgh. Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, was named Whitbread Book of the Year in the U.K. in 1995, and was followed by Human Croquet, Emotionally Weird, Not the End of the World, Case Histories and One Good Turn.
1. Many of the characters in When Will There Be Good News? have lost family members: Joanna loses her mother, sister, and baby brother in the novel’s opening pages; Reggie’s mother has recently drowned; and Jackson lost his mother, brother, and sister in the course of a year when he was twelve. In view of these tragedies, compare Joanna’s, Reggie’s, and Jackson’s respective outlooks on life with those of the other characters in the novel.
2. The question of Nathan’s paternity haunts Jackson Brodie. Why? How might Jackson’s life change if he discovered he was Nathan’s father? Is Jackson a good father to Marlee?
3. With When Will There Be Good News?—and previously also in Case Histories and One Good Turn—Kate Atkinson introduced elements of the traditional crime novel into her fiction. Other than the “crime,” what elements make up a crime novel? What crime-fiction conventions can you discern in this book?
4. When Will There Be Good News? has three central female characters: Joanna, Louise, and Reggie. Discuss the ways in which these three central characters are similar. Which of the three would you most like to encounter again in a subsequent novel by Kate Atkinson?
5. Of Jackson Brodie, Atkinson writes, “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” (page 90). What are the chances that Jackson will ever have a successful romantic relationship? Why do you think he has been unlucky so far, even though he is such an appealing character?
6. Discuss the idea of “good” characters and “evil” characters in When Will There Be Good News? Do you think the novel’s central characters are either essentially “good” or essentially “evil,” or are they a combination of both? How do Louise, Reggie, and Jackson—each of whom breaks the law to achieve the “right” result—figure into your viewpoint? What is the moral code at work in the novel?
7. Death, violence, and hardship seem to stalk Reggie, yet she remains remarkably resilient. What do you think sustains her?
8. Discuss the institution of marriage as it is portrayed in the novel. Consider Louise’s marriage, Joanna’s marriage, Jackson’s marriage, and Julia’s marriage. Are there any characters in the novel who are happily married?
9. Jackson Brodie believes that “a coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen” (page 319). Discuss some of the coincidences in When Will There Be Good News? Do they make the story seem more real? Or less real?
10. Despite the novel’s title and the early statement that “everything was bad. There was no question about it” (page 10), there are many instances of humor in the story. Do you think When Will There Be Good News? is essentially a humorous novel with tragic events or a tragic novel with moments of levity?