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Reviews of Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

Shrines of Gaiety

A Novel

by Kate Atkinson

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson X
Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2022, 416 pages

    May 2023, 416 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Book Summary

The #1 national bestselling, award-winning author of Life after Life transports us to a restless London in the wake of the Great War--a city fizzing with money, glamour, and corruption--in this spellbinding tale of seduction and betrayal

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.



"Is it a hanging?" an eager newspaper delivery boy asked no one in particular. He was short, just thirteen years old, and was jumping up and down in an effort to obtain a better view of whatever it was that had created the vaudeville atmosphere. It wasn't much past dawn and there was still hardly any light in the sky, but that had not failed to deter a party crowd of motley provenance from gathering outside the gates of Holloway prison. Half of the throng were up early, the other half seemed not to have been to bed yet.

Many of the congregation were in evening dress—the men in dinner jackets or white tie and tails, the women shivering in flimsy backless silk beneath their furs. The boy could smell the tired miasma of alcohol, perfume and tobacco that drifted around them. Toffs, he thought. He was surprised that they were happily rubbing shoulders with lamplighters and milkmen and early shift-workers, not to mention the usual riffraff and rubberneckers who were always...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Nellie Coker is a purveyor of gaiety, although she herself is more interested in turning a profit than in having fun. What makes her successful in business? Do those traits also make her a good mother? To what extent do her six children (Edith, Niven, Betty, Shirley, Ramsay, and Kitty) share her priorities and her approach to life? In her household, is it easier to be a son or a daughter?
  2. As a woman in the early twentieth century, Gwendolyn is often at a disadvantage. How does she turn the tables on those who try to undermine her? How do her vulnerabilities and secret strengths compare to Edith's?
  3. What sustains Frobisher's marriage to Lottie? Does Lottie's addiction mean that she always receives more from Frobisher than she gives...
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BookBrowse Review


Much as she did skillfully and delightfully in her Jackson Brodie mysteries, Atkinson segues from character to character and from scene to scene, cleverly utilizing overlapping chronologies and well-placed coincidences in techniques reminiscent of the best Victorian novels. But she also folds in issues of sexuality, women's rights, reproductive health, drug use, sexual harassment and other topics that ring true to the time but wouldn't have been written about so openly as the author is free to do here. Real-life historical figures make cameos, but not in a distracting or manipulative way; instead, Atkinson's focus is on the characters she's created and the many layers of loyalty and betrayal built up between them, making it clear that she—like the master storyteller she is—is entirely in control of the boisterous history she shares with her lucky readers...continued

Full Review (604 words)

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(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Media Reviews

BookPage (starred review)
There's a certain joy in opening a Kate Atkinson novel—a feeling that every element matters and that each surprise will ultimately make perfect sense...Atkinson's characters and their choices, curiosities and corruptions keep the story unfolding, making the resolution worth every second.

[Atkinson] takes on London in the 1920s, masterfully capturing both its shimmer and its seediness…It's a deliciously fun, absorbing read.

New York Times
[A] sprawling picaresque...Stood beside her previous novels, the book can seem like a minor work in a catalog already stacked with greatest hits; a kind of fond genre exercise the author has undertaken simply because she can...For all its dips into sentiment and cliché — Atkinson has a weakness for wordplay and extended nautical metaphors — she remains a keenly sympathetic observer of human foibles, one who can sketch a character in one quicksilver sentence.

Oprah Daily
An homage to the mannered realism of Dickens and Forster...Comedy, tragedy, genre, realism, postmodernism: Atkinson breaks through again and again as she evolves on the page.

The Guardian (UK)
A rich cast of characters, an elegantly intricate plot—this is classic Atkinson.

Booklist (starred review)
[A] riveting re-creation of life in 1920s London...Atkinson's palpable fondness for her characters helps her to imbue even the most minor of them with texture and depth, and she brings the same attention to detail to her portrait of the highs and lows of Jazz Age London. Another triumph from one of our finest novelists.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Like all of Atkinson's novels, her latest defies easy categorization. It's historical fiction, but there's a sense of knowingness that feels contemporary...The adjective Dickensian feels too clichéd to be meaningful, but Atkinson does excel at creating a big, bustling universe fully inhabited by vivid characters...Already one of the best writers working, Atkinson just gets better and better.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] glittering foray into London's post-WWI Soho...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.

Reader Reviews

Anthony Conty

Slow Burn but Sizzles Soon
London, 1926. I am not a history guy, but I love that I have many friends who could tell you so much just from those details. “Shrines of Gaiety” by Kate Atkinson tells the story of a life of excess in the British club scene but gets to its point ...   Read More
Cloggie Downunder

Superlative historical fiction.
“The war was history, and history didn’t interest Freda, she’d had no part in it. She was vibrant with the present and hungry for the future.” Shrines Of Gaiety is the fifth stand-alone novel by award-winning, best-selling British author Kate ...   Read More

Extremely disappointing
I know this isn’t the popular view for any of Kate Atkinson’s work, but I found Shrines of Gaiety disappointing enough to take her off my list of “must read” authors.

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Beyond the Book

Kate Meyrick

black-and-white photograph of Kate Meyrick In an Author's Note in her novel Shrines of Gaiety, Kate Atkinson reveals that the real-life inspiration for her character Nellie Coker was Kate Meyrick, the impresario known as the "Queen of Nightclubs." Much like Atkinson's character, "Ma" Meyrick built an empire of sorts during the Jazz Age, owning and operating a string of clubs in London (and, for a brief time, in Paris), often with the assistance of her adult children.

Meyrick, who repeatedly separated from and reunited with her husband and the father of her eight children, was inspired to open her first club in 1919, when she found herself caring for her eldest daughter, who had caught influenza at college, without much support. Opening a nightclub enabled Meyrick to have her ...

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