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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

Case Histories

1. It's quite clear to the three eldest Land girls that their baby sister Olivia is their parents' favorite child. Do all parents have a special affection for a particular son or daughter? How does Victor and Rosemary's fondness for Olivia affect the personalities and lives of her sisters?

2. Theo idealizes Laura and he is protective of her to a fault --- it's as if he is amazed that such a perfect woman could be the product of a man as imperfect as he. How do Theo's insecurities about himself distort his perception of Laura? How is her untimely death more devastating to Theo and the reader because of her apparent flawlessness? How would Theo's tragedy be different if Laura were different?

3. Michelle derives very little pleasure or joy from motherhood. For her, playing wife and mommy is an almost unbearable burden. Is Michelle a bad mother? Is her attitude toward parenthood any different from Victor and Rosemary's, or does she only manage it more poorly?

4. When we first meet Jackson, he's sitting in a used sports car, smoking a cigarette, listening to a ladies' radio program, thinking about his beloved daughter and his selfish ex-wife, all while spying on a woman. What kind of first impression does he make on the reader? Is the complexity of his personality endearing, perplexing, or off-putting? How does this first encounter make more sense as the novel progresses?

5. While Amelia and Julia think Olivia might still be alive, poor Theo knows for certain that Laura is dead. At one point, Jackson R admires Theo, thinking: "Just carrying on living required a kind of strength and courage that most people didn't have." Do you agree? Is not knowing the fate of a loved one preferable to being aware of his or her death simply because it allows room for hope? Or does not knowing present a new kind of grief that precludes any opportunity for closure and healing?

6. Amelia can't bring herself to tell Julia about the night she caught Victor molesting Sylvia. How might sharing this knowledge change their pursuit of Olivia? How might it change their relationship?

7. At times, Case Histories can be quite gruesome, the tragedies its characters face quite devastating --- and yet Kate Atkinson maintains a sense of humor throughout the book. Is this humor inappropriate, or is there an element of the comic in even the most traumatic of human experiences? How does the humor affect the suspense and mystery?

8. In many ways Case Histories follows the rules of the mystery genre, but it also subverts them. How does the novel differ from other mysteries you've read? How would you classify it: mystery or family drama? Why?

9. Case Histories deftly weaves three plot lines into one narrative. Which of the three, if any, do you think could have been its own novel? Which characters would you like to know more about? Why?

10. Jackson Brodie will return in Kate Atkinson's next novel. Can you predict how his life might have changed after the events of Case Histories? What would you like to see him doing? With whom?

Case Histories
by Kate Atkinson

  • Publication Date: October 17, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316010707
  • ISBN-13: 9780316010702