When I was invited to take part in the blog tour of Kate Atkinson’s latest novel Shrines of Gaiety, I couldn’t believe my luck. I mean Atkinson is one of the world’s most talented and foremost authors; and then when I read the description of the novel, I was in book heaven. Set in the seedy, corrupt world of 1920s Soho, I instinctively knew this was my type of read. I wasn’t wrong as Atkinson skilfully weaves her unique sardonic wit into the historical feast. This resulted in me being completely captivated for just over a week. Yes, taking over a week to read a book is something I hardly ever do nowadays, but I just wanted to savour every word. I am so glad I did as I thoroughly enjoyed that week.
Shrines of Gaiety is set in the aftermath of the First World War. It is 1926 and the country is ‘reeling from the Great War. London hums with a delirious new nightlife. And queen of it all is the notorious Nellie Coker...’
Nellie, also known as Ma Coker is fresh out Holloway Prison when we first meet her after serving a six month stint behind bars. With enemies surfacing all around her and facing betrayal, Nellie is conniving as she is determined to hold on to her glittering nightclub empire. Mother to a brood of six, Nellie is definitely not the most maternal figure. She is extremely ruthless and could even be described as cold. Yet I liked Nellie. Even though they can annoy her, and she has reason not to fully trust her children, she is ambitious for them. Nellie is a true survivor and I really admire her. I loved reading her backstory, which evoked my empathy for this great character, really enhancing my understanding of her.
It could be argued that Shrines of Gaiety is Nellie’s story. Yes, she is the beating heart of the story but this novel is made up of an array of fascinating and diverse characters, brilliantly enhancing the plot; a plot that involves gangsters, corrupt police, spies and young dead girls. It is a richly developed plot full of humour, intrigue and emotion. There is also a subtle love story interwoven within the plot which I absolutely loved. I also need to mention the clever twists throughout the narrative. The almighty twist near the end is sheer brilliance! It also put a big smile on my face.
The stories of Nellie’s eldest children Niven and Edith particularly fascinated me. They also emotionally moved me. As did the story of Freda, a young girl who runs away to London to seek her dream of a dazzling life on the stage. Then there is the poignant story of Chief Inspector John Frobisher who employs the former war nurse and librarian Gwendolen Kelling to spy on Ma Cocker. Just like Nellie, Gwendolen is a character that deserves to be admired. In their own unique fashion, they are both true literary heroines, as is Freda.
Shrines of Gaiety is a captivating, unforgettable novel with unforgettable characters. I adored it and feel so privileged that I was invited to take part in the blog tour. Thank you Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for my invite. Thank you also to Alison Barrow from Doubleday for arranging my advance proof copy (pictured above). I am sure you can all agree that the proof of this book is so sophisticated and stunning!
Shrines of Gaiety was released in hardback on 27 September 2022. If you love being consumed by a novel, I urge you to read it.
To read the reviews from my fellow book bloggers also on the blog tour, please see below.