The latest novel from award winning author Kate Atkinson, "Shrines of Gaiety" is a sprawling Dickensian tale of the glittering underworld of London immediately following the first World War. At the heart of the story is the Coker family, dominated by matriarch Nellie Cocker, queen of London nightclubs. Nellie is a dowdy middle-aged woman of mysterious origins who has built an empire of night clubs each run by one of her children under her iron control. The novel begins with two young girls, Freda and Florence, running away to London to seek fame and fortune on the stage. A local librarian who is a friend of Freda's sister comes to London to search for them.
This is not a plot driven book. Atkinson's intent seems to be to paint a vivid picture of a society recovering from the horror of The Great War by pursuing pleasure to the point of debauchery. The story is narrated from multiple points of view but always with a warm, amused voice that softens the grim scenes of child murders, sex trafficking, back street abortionists and debauched orgies. The characters are vividly drawn. Atkinson is a master at bringing her characters to life with a well-crafted phrase or sentence. While this may not be your favorite Kate Atkinson book it is well worth a read.