As has been pointed out, it's extremely unlikely that 21 unruly bloggers will be completely of like mind on our selected titles. The Minority Opinion is an opportunity for bloggers who were less enthusiastic about the final selection to make their case about what they found lacking. Herewith, their take on Case Histories:
While those of us responsible for this post were not as impressed with Kate Atkinson's Case Histories as those of our colleagues who helped make it the first LBC Read This! selection, we do still affirm the process by which it was selected. A diverse group of literary webloggers worked out a procedure by which eligible books could be considered and a vote on the merits of these books held in a fully democratic way. If the book any one of us might have selected had the decision been ours alone did not prevail this time around, we will be approaching the next selection (when the voters will be if anything even more diverse) with every expectation that our tastes and our judgments will be fairly represented.
Our disappointment with the selection of Case Histories is first and foremost a result of our conclusion that it was not the best of the nominated titles, that it fails to satisfy based purely on literary standards. Although we do not at all object to the consideration of genre fiction for the LBC selection, we do believe that in this case the book teetered awkwardly between "genre fiction" and "literary fiction" without ever really doing justice to the possibilities of either mode. Thus, for example, coincidences that strain credibility abound in this book, but since it is ostensibly a "mystery" such devices are presumably considered to be acceptable--which ultimately seems only a condescending take on the conventions of mystery/detective fiction. On the other hand, Atkinson makes an effort to elevate the conventions of mystery fiction to a higher plane, to use them as a way to explore such things as isolation, loss, missed connections, class issues, and random violence, but the novel never really reaches a point where the writing or approach feels fresh enough to justify the exercise.
Thus, to some extent the detective fiction mold overly constrains Atkinson's ability to treat her themes of loss and family dysfunction in a fully credible way, while her attempt to introduce such subjects into the detective/mystery form distorts the form--and verges dangerously at times on sentimentality--too much to make it really appropriate for the stories she has to tell. We wondered, finally, why these stories needed to be told in what passes for a detective novel in the first place.
More than anything else, however, we found this book disappointing on the most basic level: its language. Although the novel does experiment with shifting points of view and overlapping plots (which we liked), its style remains consistent. Unfortunately it is consistently bland and uninvolving, rarely rising above the merely serviceable and doing little to add some life to a set of stories that fail to transcend their own contrivances or to characters that too often fall back into stereotype. The novel’s private detective, Jackson Brodie, seems especially lackluster, at times merely a bundle of characteristics—divorced ex-cop in a mid-life crisis—that might have been mail-ordered from central casting.
The problems with the novel’s style can be seen on its very first page. Curtains hang “limply,” the sun is “hot and sticky,” the baby Olivia is “reliable as a rooster” and “cute as a button.” (Such lazy phrasing reoccurs throughout the book.) This is followed by several pages of tedious exposition that, to say the least, do little to signal that this is an author who will be contributing something original or compelling to the mystery genre. Perhaps some readers consider Atkinson’s style in Case Histories to be admirably plain and unpretentious. We found it simply dull.
When the Read This! selection was announced, numerous criticisms were made of the choice based on the fact that neither Kate Atkinson nor Case Histories were really "struggling to be noticed in a flooded marketplace." And to be completely honest, we have to say we agree with some of these criticisms. Selecting “a Whitbread Award Book of the Year winner whose latest novel is being published by Little, Brown” and which, compared to the books we might have chosen, has indeed been “very widely reviewed” is to some extent hard to reconcile with our “self-imposed mission.” For a few of us, at least, this choice does come uncomforably close to being “a middlebrow cop out.”
If we had instead chosen a more certifiably “obscure” or neglected book, would we have been criticized as well from a different perspective? Would we have been accused of being “elitist” or too critical of mainstream publishing? It’s hard to know, but the one criticism we probably could have easily anticipated was the one that has been circulated, that we ignored our own declarations of support for less-known books and authors.
However, should those of us in the Litblog Co-op who truly believed Case Histories was a deserving book, indeed the best of those nominated, have let our judgment be affected by these inevitable criticisms? Probably not. Thus, although we do think a choice more appropriate to the LBC’s mission could have been made, we ultimately consider our dissenting view of Case Histories to be mainly a difference of critical opinion with our colleagues, something a project like Read This more or less invites. It will happen again.