The figurative language of Kate Atkinson

Reading time: About 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about metaphors from Kate Atkinson….

An English writer of novels, plays and short stories, Kate Atkinson is best known for creating the Jackson Brodie series of detective novels, which has been adapted into the BBC One series Case Histories.

Her most famous book, however, is probably her 1995 novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, for which she won the Whitbread Book of the Year prize. And her most recent work is the delightful 2022 work, Shrines of Gaiety, the story of the London underworld of the 1920s.

Kate Atkinson not only has a sharp eye for figurative language, but she also knows how to make them funny, as my favourite examples illustrate:

  • This extravagance had been removed by a wardress as soon as Nellie stepped inside the forbidding walls, and the exotica of pineapple, peaches and figs had been divvied out between the staff while Nellie dined on meagre prison fare — a regular round of pea soup, suet pudding and beef stew, a rancid dish that had never met the cow it claimed to be acquainted with.
  • When she had finished her tea she threw the residue into the flowerbed, surprising both tulips and thrush equally.
  • The rest of them parted as smoothly and instinctively as a flock of crows will suddenly break apart and scatter, each to its own destination.
  • [She was] wearing a strange little hat made by a milliner Nellie knew in Ingestre Place. It gave the impression that a blackbird had landed on her head and died there.
  • Nellie wasn’t really a woman, she was an element, like iron.
  • “Gwendolen,” she introduced herself, offering her hand to Constable Cobb, who shook it limply and echoed “Gwendolen” hesitantly, as though simply pronouncing her name might put him in jeopardy of untoward intimacy.
  • He swallowed nervously, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down, It was too large for the thin stalk of his neck.
  • There were always the unexpected she had to sidestep [when walking]— people appearing out of nowhere like jack-in-the-boxes.
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