Shrines of Gaiety – Kate Atkinson

Published By: Random House/Transworld
Pages: 448
Released On: 27/09/2022

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.

The notorious queen of this glittering world is 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.

*****

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

How to review this without being ostracised by the book community? My honest opinion? More bad than good I’m afraid, and judging by other reviews I seem to be in a minority of one.

At over 440 pages, this book started on a back foot for me, as anything above 300-350 pages seems wasteful. It takes a good book to really warrant a longer page count, and sadly, I was deeply disappointed with this one.

This has got one of the largest casts of characters I’ve read in a long time and it took a long time for me to fully understand who was who and how they were related and how their stories were linked, and I think it would have been beneficial to the reading if some of these characters were dropped.

A lot of the early reviews I’d read said there was a strong Dickensian quality to it. As an avid Dickens enthusiast, I saw nothing of the sort anywhere in this book. Not in the writing style or the themes chosen so I’m not sure what they’re suggesting.

For a book that’s not too far off 500 pages, very little happens. There’s a lot of padding and a lot of describing things, but very little plot. I couldn’t confidently tell you what the main plot, or the secondary stories, was actually about, which is a shame – it just sort of plods along with no real aim.

Some of the storylines seemed unfinished or undeveloped and you wonder why it was even in there to begin with. You may read the start of a plot point, and then it’s not touched upon again for several chapters and you’ve already forgotten who they were or what was happening. It all seemed very slow but very rushed at the same time.

I will end on a positive though. What she has excelled at in this book is presenting the ups and downs of 1920s nightlife, a post-war underworld of drugs, drinking, crime and death.

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