NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The award-winning author of Life after Life transports us to a restless London in the wake of the Great War—a city bursting with money, glamour, and corruption—in this spellbinding tale of seduction and betrayal.
A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: WASHINGTON POST, TIME, THE GUARDIAN, BOOKLIST
"Set during Jazz Age London, in all its fizzy madness and desperation.... As dark as [Atkinson's] stories can get, within them always shines a beacon of humanity.” —Gillian Flynn, bestselling author of Dark Places
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.
With her unique Dickensian flair, Kate Atkinson gives us a window in a vanished world. Slyly funny, brilliantly observant, and ingeniously plotted, Shrines of Gaiety showcases the myriad talents that have made Atkinson one of the most lauded writers of our time.
The title of Atkinson's glittering foray into London's post-WWI Soho (after Big Sky) comes from the obituary of real-life club maven Kate Meyrick, the inspiration for protagonist Nellie Coker. It's cause for celebration in 1926 when a "party crowd of motley provenance" gathers to greet Coker on her release from Holloway women's prison after her arrest in a raid on her illegal club. They include most of her six children; moral crusader Det. Chief Insp. John Frobisher of Bow Street Station; and outsider Gwendolyn Kelling, a York librarian and former war nurse seeking two female friends who, like many a girl in the vile city, have gone missing or been dumped in the Thames—and some of them worked for Nellie. Overlapping plots reveal nefarious schemes to end Nellie's firm grip on her five dens of iniquity, which are frequented by royalty and celebrities. Nellie will not go down easily amid internecine family battles, corrupt police forces, and ghosts from the past out for bloody revenge. The long shadow of the Great War gives way to the fuggy Jazz Age atmosphere of dance halls, drug dens, Belgravia spielers, abortionists, and roving pickpockets who take to the "stage of duplicity and disguise," as Gwendolyn views the demimonde while working undercover for Frobisher. Atkinson's incisive prose and byzantine narrative elegantly excavate the deceit, depravity, and destruction of Nellie's world. She also turns this rich historical into a sophisticated cat-and-mouse tale as the various actors try to move in on Nellie's turf. Atkinson is writing at the top of her game.
Signs of Gaiety
The book was a good read until the end. I guess she was done writing and everyone was wrapped up. And some weren’t.
Her writing draws you so far into the era that I felt I was living there and then, knowing the characters. What a terrific story!
I do appreciate her dry sense of humor that seems to surface just when it was needed