If Dickens had lived to write about the Jazz Age, he would have produced a novel much like Kate Atkinson's Shrines of Gaiety. A sprawling and sparkling tale set in London in 1926, Atkinson's latest is overrun with flappers, gangsters, shilling-a-dance girls, disillusioned veterans of the Great War, crooked coppers, a serial killer, absinthe cocktails, teenage runaways, snazzy roadsters, and a bevy of Bright Young Things.
Admittedly, calling Atkinson "Dickensian" is, by now, something of a cliche. The grand narrative sweep of some of her earlier novels like Life After Life and A God in Ruins has invited that comparison time and again. (In contrast, Atkinson's popular Jackson Brodie mysteries are streamlined to a rapier-thin blade.) But how else to describe the masterful way Atkinson not only musters up a city full of characters but also slowly and smoothly binds them together through coincidence and hidden relationships?