Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Questions and topics for discussion
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
- Death, violence, and hardship seem to stalk Reggie, yet she
remains remarkably resilient. What do you think sustains her?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.