Not the End of the World

Not the End of the World

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by Kate Atkinson
     
 

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When she burst onto the literary scene with her prizewinning debut, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson announced herself as a writer of rare and original talent. The stories in Atkinson's newest work of fiction confirm her abundant gifts: equal parts comedy, tragedy, and myth, they inevitably lead to utterly surprising conclusions. Meredith Zane, one of… See more details below

Overview

When she burst onto the literary scene with her prizewinning debut, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson announced herself as a writer of rare and original talent. The stories in Atkinson's newest work of fiction confirm her abundant gifts: equal parts comedy, tragedy, and myth, they inevitably lead to utterly surprising conclusions. Meredith Zane, one of the legendary Zane sisters, known for their perfect teeth and far-flung travels, may have just discovered the secret of eternal life. Fielding, a burned-out media critic, suspects he has a doppelganger who is sullying his reputation -- and having a much better time than Fielding ever has. Marianne is a young mother whose untimely end on a rainy highway doesn't necessarily keep her out of her family's life. Arthur, a neglected and precocious eight-year-old boy taken under the wing of an enigmatic nanny, discovers a world he never knew existed. It's Kate Atkinson's world, and these are just a few of its inhabitants, a constellation of unforgettable characters living unpredictably between reality and possibility. With wry humor and keen observation, with nods to traditions both ancient and contemporary, Not the End of the World crackles with endlessly entertaining comedy and substance.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Atkinson, who began her career with Behind the Scenes at the Museum, a Whitbread Book of the Year, and enjoyed good reviews for two more novels, now gathers together this suite of comparatively loosely connected stories. Atkinson's work has grown increasingly diffuse; her most recent book, Emotionally Weird, was printed in three fonts, representing separate strings of narrative. This collection takes that conceit without the typesetting extravagance one step further, opening and closing on two women who seem to tell one another the intervening tales. Atkinson's Scheherazades, singletons of indeterminate age named Charlene and Trudi, appear first in "a food hall as vast as a small city," and by the book's end which may or may not be the end of the world they're starving to death in a squalid, freezing flat in what feels like an apocalyptic present. In the women's restless imaginations, readers meet more than one girlfriend (in different stories, and each unbeknownst to the other) of a man named Hawk; a gaggle of perfect-toothed American Zane sisters; and a governess who may or may not be a goddess. Some of Atkinson's devices a giant cat who impregnates a woman with kittens, an evil twin who gets to have all the fun make for stories as simple as fables, but some, like the nanny goddess and the virtuoso, multiple-voiced "Dissonance," are sharp and memorable, full of astutely observed family dynamics. While not as intense or as unified as Atkinson's full-length work, this is a sharp and wholly original collection. (Dec. 3) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The characters in most of these stories are as bleak and staid as Atkinson's portrayal of the Scottish landscape. The women in particular seem to emerge out of nowhere and end up not much further along, though listeners will still find themselves briefly caught up in their lives. As the tales, read by Geraldine James, mount one on another, there is slight movement toward death or abandonment, often under unusual (and somewhat contrived) circumstances, as if these lives were doomed from the start. Characters reappear briefly and unexpectedly in other stories though not with enough regularity to make interconnected lives central to the collection's structure. While the writing is excellent, and one has to admire the author's ability to build on so very little, if you're not paying attention you could suddenly find yourself in the middle of another story. Atkinson's debut novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the prestigious Whitbread Award, so she should have a loyal following in America as well as Great Britain.-Rochelle Ratner, formerly with Soho Weekly News, New York Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Twelve debut stories from Whitbread winner Atkinson (Behind the Scenes at the Museum, 1996) are unparalleled in deftness but in their depth less compelling. Characters from one tale are sometimes referred to in another-as with Meredith Zane, whose aunt Nanci Zane married a Briton (in the 1970s) and then died during dentistry ("The Bodies Vest"), causing her own dentist father, back in California, to shoot himself. Earlier in the volume but later in time, Meredith ("Transparent Fiction") is 25 and living with a wannabe scriptwriter in London. When Meredith twitches the cape from the shoulders of a famous producer's wife, the aging lady turns to dust. Ovid-like metamorphoses appeal to Atkinson, who prefaces the stories with Latin passages, even Greek, allusions that tend to make the stories seem the more minor. A prolixity of cuteness and verve can give energy but can also cloy ("Meredith, Baxter, and Wilson-which sounded like a firm of lawyers-were all girls, as were the endlessly confusing Taylor, Tyler, Skyler, and Sky"). The pieces are nothing, though, if not capable in their details, as in "Tunnel of Fish," about a young deaf boy's fantasies, or "Unseen Translation," about a likably strident nanny who seeks to rescue her charges from the "ordinary." More familiar still is "Temporal Anomaly," about an Edinburgh woman who hovers, watching her family's reactions after she "dies" in a car wreck. In "Wedding Favors," a divorced mother is alone after her last child leaves for college, while in "The Cat Lover," a woman's pet grows huge and she gets pregnant by him. Opening and closing the volume are twin stories, the first about futuristic threats to the world ("Charlene and Trudi GoShopping"), the other ("Pleasureland") about its end. In both, the characters rattle off lists of things to do, eat, and buy in another Ovid-like device that, here, just seems minimizing and affected. Stories, on balance, that appear above all to love the sound of their own voices.
From the Publisher
“Moving and funny and crammed with incidental wisdom.”
Sunday Times

"Exceptional... Sharp, witty and completely compelling."
Daily Mail

"I can think of few writers who can make the ordinary collide with the extraordinary to such beguiling effect... left me so fizzing with admiration."
Observer

"An exceptionally funny, quirky and bold writer."
—Independent on Sunday

"Moving and funny, and crammed with incidental wisdom."
The Sunday Times

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316159371
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
10/06/2004
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
274,556
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.75(d)

Meet the Author

Kate Atkinson has won several prizes for her short fiction. Her first novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum was chosen as the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year. Her other novels are Human Croquet and Emotionally Weird. She lives in Edinburgh.

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Not the End of the World



By Kate Atkinson


Little, Brown



Copyright © 2002

Kate Atkinson
All right reserved.



ISBN: 0-316-61430-0





Chapter One


Charlene and Trudi Go Shopping


I WANT," CHARLENE SAID to Trudi, "to buy my mother a birthday
present."

"OK," Trudi said.

"Something I can put in the post. Something that won't break."
Trudi thought about some of the things you could put in the post
that might break.

A crystal decanter.

A fingernail.

An egg.

A heart.

A Crown Derby teapot.

A promise.

A mirrored-glass globe in which nothing but the sky is reflected.

"How about a scarf?" she suggested. "In velvet devore. I love that
word. Devore."

Charlene and Trudi were in a food hall as vast as a small city. It
smelled of chocolate and ripe cheese and raw meaty bacon but most of
the food was too expensive to buy and some of it didn't look real.
They wandered along an avenue of honey.

"I could buy a jar of honey," Trudi said.

"You could," Charlene agreed.

There was plenty of honey to choose from. There was lavender honey
and rosemary honey, acacia and orange blossom and mysterious manuka.
Butter-yellow honey from Tuscan sunflowers and thick, anemic honey
from English clover. There were huge jars like ancient amphorae and
neat spinster-size pots. There were jars of cut-combhoney that
looked like seeded amber. There was organic honey from lush South
American rain forests and there was honey squeezed from parsimonious
Scottish heather on windswept moorlands. Bees the world over had
been bamboozled out of their bounty so that Trudi could have a
choice, but she had already lost interest.

"You could buy her soap," Trudi said. "Soap wouldn't break.
Expensive soap. Made from oatmeal and buttermilk or goat's milk and
vanilla pods from ... wherever vanilla pods come from."

"Mauritius. Mainly," Charlene said.

"If you say so. Soap for which ten thousand violet petals have been
crushed and distilled to provide one drop of oil. Or soap scented
with the zest of a hundred bittersweet oranges."

"I'm hungry. I could buy an orange," Charlene said.

"You could. Seville or Moroccan?"

"Moorish," Charlene said dreamily. "I would like to visit a Moorish
palace. The Alhambra. That's an exotic word. That's the most exotic
word I can think of, offhand. Alhambra."

"Xanadu," Trudi said. "That's exotic. A pleasure dome. Imagine
having your own pleasure dome. You could call it Pleasureland. Isn't
there a Pleasureland in Scarborough?"

"Arbroath," Charlene said gloomily.

"With shady walks through cool gardens," Trudi said, "where the air
is perfumed with attar of roses."

"And fountains and courtyards," Charlene said. "Fountains that run
with nectar. And courtyards full of peacocks and nightingales and
larks. And swans. And gold and silver fish swimming in the
fountains. And huge blue and white marbled carp."

They were walking down a street of teas. They were lost.

"Who would think there were so many different teas in the world?"
Trudi mused. "Chrysanthemum tea, White Peony, Jade Peak, Oriental
Beauty Oolong, Green Gunpowder, Golden Needle, Hubei Silver Tip,
Drum Mountain White Cloud, Dragon's Breath tea-do you think it
tastes of dragon's breath? What do you think dragon's breath tastes
like?"

"Foul, I expect," Charlene said. "And all day long," she continued,
"in the pleasure dome -"

"Pleasureland," Trudi corrected.

"Pleasureland. We would eat melon and figs and scented white peaches
and Turkish Delight and candied rose petals."

"And drink raspberry sherbet and tequila and Canadian ice wine,"
Trudi enthused.

"I should go," Charlene said. She had failed to recover her spirits
since the mention of Arbroath. "I've got an article to write."
Charlene was a journalist with a bridal magazine. "'Ten Things to
Consider Before You Say "I Do."'"

"Saying 'I don't'?" Trudi suggested.


"Abracadabra," Charlene murmured to herself as she crossed against
the traffic in the rain, "that's an exotic word." Somewhere in the
distance a bomb exploded softly.


IT HAD BEEN raining for weeks. There were no taxis outside the radio
station. Charlene was worried that she was developing a crush on the
man who searched her handbag in the reception at the radio station.

"I know he's quite short," she said to Trudi, "but he's sort of
manly."

"I once went out with a short man," Trudi said. "I never realized
just how short he was until after I'd left him." There were no taxis
at the rank. There were no taxis dropping anyone off at the radio
station.

Trudi frowned. "When did you last see a taxi?"

Charlene and Trudi ran from the radio station, ran from the rain,
past the sandbags lining the streets, into the warm, dispassionate
space of the nearest hotel and sat in the smoky lounge and ordered
tea.

"I think he's ex-military or something."

"Who?"

"The man who searches the bags at the radio station."

A waitress brought them weak green tea. They sipped their tea
daintily-an adverb dictated by the awkward handles of the cups.

"I've always wanted to go out with a man in a uniform," Trudi said.

"A fireman," Charlene suggested.

"Mm," Trudi said thoughtfully.

"Or a policeman," Charlene said.

"But not a constable."

"No, not a constable," Charlene agreed. "An inspector."

"An army captain," Trudi said, "or maybe a naval helicopter pilot."

The weak green tea was bitter.

"This could be Dragon's Breath tea, for all we know," Trudi said.
"Do you think it is? Dragon's breath?"

There was no air in the hotel. Two large, middle-aged women were
eating scones with quiet determination. A well-known journalist was
seducing a girl who was too young. Two very old men were speaking in
low pleasant tones to each other about music and ancient wars.

"Thermopylae," the men murmured. "Aegospotami, Cumae. The
'Dissonant' Quartet."

"I really want a cat," Trudi said.

"You can't keep a cat in town," Charlene said.

"You can't keep a cat down?"

"You can't keep a cat in town."

"You can."

"You need something small like a rodent," Charlene said.

"A capybara's a rodent, it's not small."

"A hamster," Charlene said, "a gerbil, a small white mouse."

"I don't want a rodent. Of any size. I want a cat. Kitty, kitty,
kitty, kitty, kitty. If you say something five times you always get
it."

"You made that up," Charlene said.

"True," Trudi admitted.

"I'd like something more unusual," Charlene said. "A kangaroo. A
reindeer or an otter. A talking bird or a singing fish."

"A singing fish?"

"A singing fish. A fish that sings and has a magic ring in its
stomach. A huge carp that is caught in a fishpond-usually at a royal
court somewhere-and cooked and served at the table and when you bite
into the fish you find a magic ring. And the magic ring will lead
you to the man who will love you. Or the small white mouse which is
the disguise of the man who will love you."

"That would be a rodent then."

"Failing that," Charlene continued, ignoring Trudi, "I would like a
cat as big as a man."

"A cat as big as a man?" Trudi frowned, trying to picture a man-size
cat.

"Yes. Imagine if men had fur."

"I think I'd rather not."

The waitress asked them if they wanted more of the weak green tea.

"For myself," the waitress said, uninvited, "I prefer dogs."
Charlene and Trudi swooned with delight at the idea of dogs.

"Oh God," Trudi said, overcome by all the breeds of dog in the
world, "a German shepherd, a golden retriever, a Great Dane, a
borzoi-what a great word-a Saint Bernard, a Scottie, a Westie, a
Yorkie. An Austrian pinscher, a Belgian griffon, a Kromfohrlander.
The Glen of Imaal terrier, the Manchester, Norwich, English toy,
Staffordshire, Bedlington-all terriers also. The Kai, the Podengo
Portugueso Medio, the Porcelaine and the Spanish greyhound. The
bloodhound, the lurcher, the Dunker, the Catahoula Leopard Dog, the
Hungarian vizsla, the Lancashire heeler and the giant German spitz!"

"Or a mongrel called Buster or Spike," Charlene said.

The waitress cleared away their tea things. "Money, money, money,
money, money," she whispered to herself as she bumped open the door
to the kitchen with her hip. The electricity failed and everyone was
suddenly very quiet. No one had realized how dark the rain had made
the afternoon.


IN THE RECEPTION at the television station there was a tank of fish
so big that it covered a whole wall. Trudi noted that they were
mostly African freshwater fish. She wondered if they had flown here
in a plane and if that had felt strange for them. No one else was
taking any notice of the wall of fish. The receptionist had
strawberry-blond hair, coiffed extravagantly. She appeared to have a
Heckler and Koch MP5A3 9mm submachine gun under her desk. Trudi felt
a wave of jealousy.

Trudi was a publicist for a small imprint in a large publishing
house. She had a twin sister called Heidi and neither Trudi nor
Heidi liked her name. They were the names (in the opinion of Heidi
and Trudi) of goatherding girls and American hookers, of girls who
wore their hair in plaits and drank milk or had sex dressed as
French maids and nurses. Of girls who never grew up. Trudi and Heidi
had no idea why they were so called. Their parents had died in a
bizarre accident not long after they were born and the kind
strangers who stood in for them, Mr. and Mrs. Marshall, had no
insight into their dead parents' thoughts.


CHARLENE AND TRUDI ordered gin slings and picked at a small dish of
black olives that tasted more bitter than weak green tea.

There were boisterous men in suits perched at the bar. They were
wondering how drunk they could get in the precurfew swill.

"I need a new haircut," Charlene said.

"I need new hair," Trudi said.

"And thinner ankles," Charlene said.

"And bigger breasts," Trudi said. "Or maybe I want smaller breasts."

"Your breasts are perfect."

"Thank you."

They could smell the perfume of the women sitting at the adjacent
table, peppery and spicy with a top note of deodorant. The women
were dressed in very fashionable, very ugly clothes. People stared
at them because their clothes were so fashionable and so ugly. They
smoked incessantly and drank martinis. There was an oily film on top
of their drinks. They looked like high-class whores but they were
rock stars' ex-wives.

A waiter dropped a tray of glasses. The boisterous men in suits
dangled their cigarettes from their mouths while they applauded.

"And," Trudi said, "I would like to ride on a horse-drawn sleigh
through forests in the snow with dogs-borzois-running alongside and
I want to be wearing silks and velvets and a cloak lined with the
fur of Arctic foxes and bears and wolfkins -"

"You mean wolf skins?"

"No, wolfkins-they're very rare-but only ones that have died of
natural causes, not ones that have been killed for their fur."

"Of course not."

"And diamonds, old rose-cut diamonds like dark, melting ice, at my
throat and ears, and on my fingers, rubies and opals like larks'
eggs, and on my feet red leather seven-league boots -"

"Flat or with a heel?"

"A modest heel. And I want to drink a liqueur made from ripe purple
plums from a silver hip flask and -" One of the boisterous men in
suits fell off his bar stool. The barman pronounced his time of
death as 9:42 P.M.

"Time to go home, ladies and gentlemen," he said, "time to go home."

Later, Charlene wished she had asked Trudi what a wolfkin was.


CHARLENE WORRIED THAT she would never have a baby. A baby would love
her. A baby would exactly fit the round hollow space inside her.
That might be a problem when it grew, of course. "Baby, baby, baby,
baby, baby," she said to the mirror before she went to bed.

First, of course, she had to get someone to father the baby and
after the humiliating ordeal with the dead solicitor last year she
couldn't imagine ever having sex again. This worried her less than
she would have imagined. Before. And Charlene would call the baby
Smiler. A boy. As fat as a porker, as big as a bomb.

In the hours between curfew and dawn Charlene listened to the sirens
wailing through the night and planned an article on "Great Tips for
Spring Weddings." She fell asleep with her hand on the Sig Sauer
semiautomatic she kept under her pillow and didn't wake until
Eosphorus, the morning star, rose and heralded the coming of his
mother, Eos, the dawn.


TRUDI WAS LOOKING for black trousers. Something simple by Joseph or
perhaps Nicole Farhi. Charlene took trousers from the racks in the
department store and displayed them with a sales assistant's
flourish for Trudi to view. All the genuine sales assistants seemed
to have disappeared. Trudi didn't like any of the trousers Charlene
showed her.

"Perhaps you could take the trousers from an Armani suit and leave
the jacket?" Charlene suggested. "Or MaxMara-they have a lot of
black suits this season. Well cut. I think I'm quite good at this,
don't you? Perhaps I could do this for a living."

All the black clothes were sprinkled with plaster dust like
dandruff.

"From the earthquake, probably," Charlene said. "They really should
be on sale, not full price."

Trudi tried on a Moschino dress and a Prada jacket and a Kenzo
cardigan and a Gucci skirt but all the clothes were made for tiny,
whippet-thin Japanese girls.

"I'll never go to the ball," Trudi said sadly.

"The balls were all canceled long ago, as you well know," Charlene
said briskly. "Try this Betty Jackson wrap."

In the end, Trudi decided to buy a rhinestone belt but there were no
sales assistants to buy it from and unlike nearly everyone else in
the city she wasn't a thief.

"We should make clothes," Charlene said as they passed through the
haberdashery floor of the department store.

"What a wonderful word," Trudi said.

"What a wonderful world?" Charlene said doubtfully.

"No. Word. Haberdashery."

"We could buy a sewing machine and share it," Charlene said. "We
could buy cloth and spools of thread and paper patterns and spend
pleasant winter evenings dressmaking together. Perhaps by the soft
light from beautiful glass oil lamps. We could sit in a pool of
golden light from the beautiful glass oil lamps and our silver
needles would glimmer and flash as we bowed our heads to the simple
yet honest work."

But Trudi was looking at the bolts of cloth, shelf after shelf of
every different kind of fabric. "Goodness," she said, "this is very
impressive. Broadcloth and butter muslin, brocade, brocatelle,
buckram, bunting, and Botany wool. Bombazine and boucle, burlap and
Bedford cord, barege, bobbinet, balbriggan, and barathea! And that's
just the Bs. Then, there's cambric and calico and cavalry twill -"

The tannoy started up with a sudden howl of feedback and a
disembodied voice announced that it was looking for Mr. Scarlet.
"Would Mr. Scarlet please come to Haberdashery, Mr. Scarlet to
Haberdashery, please."

Charlene started to panic. "You know what that means, don't you?"
she said to Trudi.

"No. What does it mean?"

"It's the code for a fire. It means there's a fire in Haberdashery."

"I don't see any fire," Trudi said.

Continues...




Excerpted from Not the End of the World
by Kate Atkinson
Copyright © 2002 by Kate Atkinson.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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