• November 21, 2011

  • January 12, 2012

  • Coming Soon

    February 1, 2012

  • February 8, 2012

Started Early, Took My Dog read-along

We’re excited to be featuring STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, by Kate Atkinson, as our first read-along book.   We’ll start out with the publisher’s synopsis of the book and then get the conversation going with a few discussion questions.  Feel free to answer our questions, pose a few of your own, or react to someone else’s comments.

Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life as a retired police detective-a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. Both appear miserable and better off without each other-or so decides Tracy, in a snap decision that surprises herself as much as Kelly. Suddenly burdened with a small child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge.

Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, the beloved detective of novels such as Case Histories, is embarking on a different sort of rescue-that of an abused dog. Dog in tow, Jackson is about to learn, along with Tracy, that no good deed goes unpunished.

Some general questions — quick and easy!

  • What did you think of STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG?
  • Have you ever read any other Jackson Brodie books?  If so, how did STARTED EARLY compare? If not, do you think the book worked well as a stand-alone novel?

I thought the discussion guide for this book was outstanding and I’m not sure we can improve much upon it! Here are some questions which caused us to pause and reflect a bit and we’d love to hear what you think….

  • At the beginning of the novel, Tracy offers a handful of cash for possession of Courtney. What were her motives and do you think her actions were justified?
  • While STARTED EARLY is definitely a mystery, it is also a fine example of literary fiction. In fact, critics and booksellers have both classified the Jackson Brodie books as mystery and literary fiction. What are some of the elements of this novel that make it “literary fiction?”
  • It was very interesting how the story went back and forth between present day and the 1970s. This format worked extremely well to not only present clues into Hope’s mysterious childhood, but it also demonstrated a great deal about the basic nature of human’s needs and desires. What were some of the themes about people’s behavior that struck a chord with you?
  • Unlike the resolution we get at the end of the novel concerning Hope background, the reader never really discovers the truth behind Courtney’s story. Why do you think Ms. Atkinson chose to leave this story open-ended? Did you think it was effective? Or, did it bother you?
  • One of the themes that was apparent throughout this novel (and other Jackson Brodie books) is lost or abandoned children. What was the role of “lost girls” in this story? And if you’re read any other Jackson Brodie books, how did this theme relate to other lost girls in Jackson’s life?
  • Another discussion topic that really stood out to me (and definitely caused me to think) was the difficulty associated with becoming a mother. In STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, the reader sees a number of women who have issues when they discover themselves facing pending motherhood as well as the loss of a child .  Discuss some of the characters’ different actions in this story as they relate to motherhood.
  • The title of the novel STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG is taken from an Emily Dickinson poem. The novel also ends with another Emily Dickinson poem called “Hope” (Interesting that it was also the name that Hope’s new family chose for their “adopted” daughter.) Why do you think Ms. Atkinson ended the novel on this note?

And here’s a fun one:

  • What do readers find Jackson Brodie so appealing? If a movie was being made of STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, who do you see playing Jackson?

We can’t wait to see what everyone thought of the book. Thanks so much for participating!

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18 Responses

  1. Since I have to work all day until late, I thought I’d post this morning first thing.

    This was my first Kate Atkinson novel, and I loved it! I didn’t realize until I got my copy that it was part of a series. Normally I don’t read books out of order, but I’m so glad I read this one!

    It was so easy to relate to Tracy and her actions, although I wouldn’t have had the guts to do what she did, I can definitely relate to the sense of paranoia she had after she bought Courtney!

    Jackson Brodie is a character I would love to spend more time with, so I plan on starting from the beginning with Case Histories. I loved his relationship with Julia, and his taking the dog from the abusive owner had me cheering!

    Tilly broke my heart, along with sweet Courtney and her thumbs up answers.

    My only problem with the book was that in the beginning I had a lot of trouble with all the J, T and K names (Tilly, Tracy, Josie, Julia, Kitty, Kelly). I could have used a character cheat sheet! But it was impossible not to get drawn into the story, and soon I was pretty well familiar with all the players.

  2. I definitely want to go back and read the other three Jackson Brodie novels after reading this one.

    I’m not sure I’d say Tracy’s actions were justified, but her heart certainly was in the right place. I do have to admit that I wanted to know more about Courtney – was she Kelly’s daughter or not?

  3. After another masterful turn with WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS?, Kate Atkinson offers a new literary thriller featuring Jackson Brodie, her now retired detective who manages to find himself in the thick of it in Leeds while he’s innocently researching a private client’s mysterious past.

    There are three narrative threads in STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG: Tracy Waterhouse is a retired Police Superintendent now passing the time as the chief of security at a shopping complex; Tilly is a septogenarian actress suffering the early stages of dementia and playing the heart-throb’s mother in COLLIER, a t.v. show; and, Jackson Brodie is the familiar rough around the edges divorced and retired detective, “drifting, as a tourist in his own country” when he witnesses the cruel and unusual punishment of a lively little terrier and decides that a “small,helpless dog seemed like a good place to draw the line” about violence.

    When Tracy makes a Faustian deal with a known prostitute and her transaction is witnessed by both Tilly and Jackson, their trajectories become entwined and all three soon come to realize that no good deed goes unpunished.

    Atkinson creates credible responses to incredible circumstances for each of her characters and her command of storytelling sets her up to rival the best writing today. In Kate Atkinson’s world there is wit and wisdom and fierce moral intelligence. You will always be satisfied by the way she weaves her tale.

  4. This is the first Kate Atkinson book I’ve read and it definitely will not be the last! I could not put it down. And yes it could easily be a stand alone novel.

    I understand Tracy’s motive in handing over cash for Courtney. In Tracy’s life as a policewoman she had seen a lot of human suffering and she had reached the breaking point. She saw her chance to make a difference in someone’s life. And isn’t that what life is all about.

    Motherhood is of course a subject that all women can relate to. In the past, motherhood just seemed to happen for most. Today women often make decisions regarding motherhood based upon their careers and so by the time they have an overwhelming desire to have children that they cannot suppress, biologically it has become difficult for them. Commitments do not often last today so people make hard decisions regarding children that they regret later.

    It all comes down to wanting to love and be loved.

    I loved the character of Jackson Brodie. I’m not sure yet who I would want to play him in a movie…someone English obviously.

    I loved the commentary on modern life in the book. The social changes and the decline of English culture were dead on and apply to North America as well.

    Also would love to know if Courtney was really Kelly’s daughter!

  5. Gak! minor computer crash so I can’t join in right now. But, loved the book. Will be back soon to comment, I hope.

  6. I really enjoyed this novel, and it can be read without having read Atkinson’s previous Jackson Brodie stories. I definitely want to read the others though. Jackson is such an interesting character; I want to know more about what makes him tick.

    I think Jackson is appealing because he’s just an average guy who is trying to better himself. HIs personal relationships with his exes and with his two children make him easy to identify with. HIs rescue of “The Ambassador” and his bonding with him endears him to all animal lovers. If STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG were to be made into a movie, I could see either Kenneth Branagh or Warren Clarke playing the role of Jackson.

    I think one of the main themes of the book was motherhood and the lengths some people will go to have/get a child. I felt like Tracy bought Courtney because subconsciously she had been yearning to give a child all the love she felt she was denied. So she buys this child, totally abandons her old life, then goes on the run with the child all the while terrified she’ll be caught. The Winfields did the same thing when they fled the country with their newly acquired child whom they named Hope. To me that is really carrying things to the extreme.

    Another theme I took away from this book had to do with what people will give up to advance their careers. Take Tilly for example, she had an abortion to keep from ruining her reputation and her career as an actress. Then too, Tracy never marries, never has a family. I felt like she gave up those dreams for the sake of her job. And what about the three policemen covering up a murder by one of their fellow officers?

    I liked everything about this book except for not finding out what happened to Tracy and Courtney. I wanted to know why no one was looking for Courtney. I also wanted to know if the two of them somehow manage to start a new life together.

  7. This was my first Jackson Brodie book as well. I did feel that I was missing a little something by not knowing his background, although the books does stand-alone just fine. I did like the book enough that I want to read the other books in this series.

    I thought for sure the things Courtney had collected and kept in her bag was going to somehow figure into the story. I do wish we had more answers regarding her storyline.

  8. I’m getting started so late! It’s been a very hectic day.

    Okay, so this is the first Kate Atkinson book that I have read. I don’t read a lot of mysteries, but I was attracted to this one when I saw that the Jackson Brodie books are often classified as literary fiction. I can definitely see how that description applies. The narrative is rich, detailed, and the characters are dynamic.

    I will admit that I didn’t get into it right away, but once I had gotten to the scene where Tracy makes her special purchase, I was hooked. I did drift a bit when the story switched to Jackson. I wasn’t sure how the two stories would come together. Once I figured it out, I was completely back on board.

    What I enjoyed most about this novel is the attention to detail in constructing the plot. Nothing goes unnoticed or gets left behind (except Courtney’s backstory – I think there’s going to be more there, but perhaps Courtney needs to be a bit older first). Balancing all of those story lines and bringing them together the way that she does is quite impressive, and it makes me want to keep reading the series (and to read the ones that I have missed).

    One of the questions mentioned the “lost girls” who appear throughout the novel, as well as the women who have trouble conceiving. “Lost girls” would seem to refer to girls who have been stripped of their identities. They do not get the chance to pursue the opportunities that would have been available to them. They do not get to be the women that they were meant to be. In this sense, the women who have trouble conceiving are also lost. They miss out on being identified as mothers, and they miss out on the opportunity to bring a new life into the world, and to nourish that life. They do not get to be the women that desperately wanted to be.

    Liam Neeson to be Jackson? Maybe?

  9. Love KP’s remark about the theme about what people will do to protect themselves and their careers!

  10. I think Liam Neeson would be a good Jackson as well…good choice Cassandra.

  11. I am still reading the end of the book, but am really enjoying the mystery of trying to figure it all out and am looking forward to the discovery of how the loose ends all work together. This is my first Jackson Brodie book and my first by Kate Atkinson. I have to admit, the book was a little difficult for me to get involved in and I also had trouble sorting out all the names and where they fit in the story. But I am really enjoying the character development of the key characters. Ms. Tilly is a hoot and I love how her thoughts jump all over the place. I go back and forth on my thoughts on Tracey. Sometimes I feel like she is a hero and other times I really wonder WHAT she was thinking. I am looking forward to reading some of the other Jackson Brodie books.

  12. Okay, I loved the book and it was my first time reading Atkinson , I am not usually a crime fan, but could someone please explain why Barry arrested Stickland for murdering Carol Braithwaite when it was clearly Lomax who murdered her and Strickland who covered it up and took the baby to the Winfields. Did I miss something?

    • I think Barry died thinking that Ray was to blame rather than Lomax. Barry took Ray to Lowell Street and Ray didn’t stay. He took a taxi home. Barry doesn’t know that. He assumed he stayed there. WhenTracy asks how Lomax knew the layout of the apartment, Barry isn’t there. I think Barry died not knowing the truth! I though Barry was a moralist figure; he alone knew right from wrong. He killed himself, in part, because he had not done right in not telling his son-in-law about the data stick or loaning his son-in-law and daughter a relatively modest amount of money.

      • Thank you for the insights into the book and Ms Atkinson’s writing. I loved this book and have just had an ah- ha moment at the point about Barry thinking Strickland killed Carol. It was we, the readers, who knew it was Lomax who killed her. Until reading this explanation, I have been going back and forth trying to work out if I had misread something or misunderstood things. Now I can relax and await the next book! Yes, I like exclamation marks just like Hope & Julia.

  13. Kate

    I was under the impression that he was arrested as an accessory to the murder because of his involvement. Anybody else?

    • Thanks, makes sense, but then wasn’t there a part where he says to Margaret that her husband “was sleeping with a whore for years”

  14. Kate pretty much summed up my view. I WOULD have like something more concrete about what happens to Courtney and Tracey in their new life, but perhaps we will in another book.
    Love the fact the macho hero has a small dog instead of a rotty or gsd.
    Will be starting at the beginning now.
    I think it would make a great tv mini series, think Miranda Hart would make a great Tracey Waterhouse, and Sean Bean as Jackson Brodie.

  15. At the end of the book Jackson has a niggling thought, it’s the birthmark shaped like Africa. Story ends. Flipping back through is this the birthmark Tracy noticed during Courtneys first bath? Jackson’s thoughts are related to Mitch’s files of lost children he has been tasked to find. I cant see a timeline, and there appears to be no other evidence to gather to solve the mystery of Courtney’s real mother. My first Kate Atkinson book; am hoping this mystery might be resolved in next book, hesitant to go through life not know ing the answer.

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