Reading guide for When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

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When Will There Be Good News?

A Novel

by Kate Atkinson

When Will There Be Good News?
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2010, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Patty Magyar

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Questions and topics for discussion

  1. Many of the characters in When Will There Be Good News? have lost family members: Joanna loses her mother, sister, and baby brother in the novel's opening pages; Reggie's mother has recently drowned; and Jackson lost his mother, brother, and sister in the course of a year when he was twelve. In view of these tragedies, compare Joanna's, Reggie's, and Jackson's respective outlooks on life with those of the other characters in the novel.
  2. The question of Nathan's paternity haunts Jackson Brodie. Why? How might Jackson's life change if he discovered he was Nathan's father? Is Jackson a good father to Marlee?
  3. With When Will There Be Good News? — and previously also in Case Histories and One Good Turn — Kate Atkinson introduced elements of the traditional crime novel into her fiction. Other than the "crime," what elements make up a crime novel? What crime- fiction conventions can you discern in this book?
  4. When Will There Be Good News? has three central female characters: Joanna, Louise, and Reggie. Discuss the ways in which these three central characters are similar. Which of the three would you most like to encounter again in a subsequent novel by Kate Atkinson?
  5. Of Jackson Brodie, Atkinson writes, "How ironic that both Julia and Louise, the two women he'd felt closest to in his recent past, had both unexpectedly got married, and neither of them to him" (page 90). What are the chances that Jackson will ever have a successful romantic relationship? Why do you think he has been unlucky so far, even though he is such an appealing character?
  6. Discuss the idea of "good" characters and "evil" characters in When Will There Be Good News? Do you think the novel's central characters are either essentially "good" or essentially "evil," or are they a combination of both? How do Louise, Reggie, and Jackson — each of whom breaks the law to achieve the "right" result — figure into your viewpoint? What is the moral code at work in the novel?
  7. Death, violence, and hardship seem to stalk Reggie, yet she remains remarkably resilient. What do you think sustains her?
  8. Discuss the institution of marriage as it is portrayed in the novel. Consider Louise's marriage, Joanna's marriage, Jackson's marriage, and Julia's marriage. Are there any characters in the novel who are happily married?
  9. Jackson Brodie believes that "a coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen" (page 319). Discuss some of the coincidences in When Will There Be Good News? Do they make the story seem more real? Or less real?
  10. Despite the novel's title and the early statement that "everything was bad. There was no question about it" (page 10), there are many instances of humor in the story. Do you think When Will There Be Good News? is essentially a humorous novel with tragic events or a tragic novel with moments of levity?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Back Bay Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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