Review: Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson Roelia Reads Book Reviews About the book:

(blurb from Penguin Random House SA)

From the inimitable bestselling author, Kate Atkinson, a mesmerising novel set in Soho in the 1920s, when gangsters and politicians, peers and dancing girls, rubbed shoulders in a dazzling new world.

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 brings together a glittering cast of characters in a truly mesmeric novel that captures the uncertainty and mutability of life; of a world in which nothing is quite as it seems.

My thoughts

Set in London after the first World War, “Shrines of Gaiety” gives you an engaging look into the roaring twenties.  Author Kate Atkinson is superb at setting the mood and painting a picture of what that period was all about – all the glitz and glamour also in contrast with grey and gritty London.   We meet Nellie Coker, the head of the Coker crime family, also known as the “Queen of Nightclubs”.  She is a businesswoman of note, knowing exactly how to play up the hedonistic lifestyle and reckless abandon that was at the order of the day in the darker underbelly of SoHo.  The book starts off where she is released from prison, and from that very moment, her character and those she cross paths with is cleverly coming to the fore.

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson Roelia Reads Book Reviews There is a mystery interwoven in “Shrines” – teenage girls are going missing and are found dead.  Who is behind this convoluted murder saga?

The presence of sharp, British humour made this such an engrossing read for me.  There is quite a cast of characters, as well as multiple POVs to keep track of, but it all worked in the end.

The character of Nellie Coker was inspired by real life nightclub owner from the 1920’s Kate Meyrick.

What I enjoyed most:

  • Roaring 20’s
  • Authentic period details
  • Strong female charachters
  • Character building
  • Crime Family

A few favourite quotes:

“Gwendolen’s mother had been a foolish woman, inclined to believe any passing nonsense. Of such people were patriots made, in Gwendolen’s opinion. More’s the pity.”

“These were ideal conditions for the creation of his magnum opus, and Ramsay was hammering on the Remington’s keys and shuttling its carriage with abandon, fuelled by nothing more than Lipton’s tea and a tin of cocaine throat pastilles that he’d cadged off one of the dancers at the Sphinx.”

“His head was always in the clouds. ‘I’m writing a novel,’ he told her. As if that was something to crow about. As if there weren’t enough novels in the world already.”

“Gossip,” Mr. Pollock called it dismissively, but Gwendolen thought that was the word men gave to women’s conversation. Men talked in order to convey information or to ruminate on cricket scores and campaign statistics. Women, on the other hand, talked in an effort to understand the foibles of human behaviour. If men were to “gossip,” the world might be a better place. There would certainly be fewer wars.”

“That was the thing about hospitals, anyone could wander into your room and gawp at you when you were at your very lowest, your most unflattering.”

Roelia Reads Rating 4/5

With thanks to Penguin Random House SA for the opportunity to read this book.

The details

Published by Penguin Random House SA


Recommended Price R320.00

Published October 2022

About the Author