Kate Atkinson set her last novel, Shrines of Gaiety, in the nightclubs and back streets of 1920s Soho. Normal Rules Don’t Apply, by contrast, is a collection of short stories set in a kaleidoscopic multiverse where a delicate bell announces the end of the world, a racehorse speaks a fortune into existence and traumatised toys engage in group therapy. Yet as fantastical as this sounds, Atkinson weaves these flashes of the absurd together with sharp social commentary and a cast of recognisable characters.
‘Shine, Pamela! Shine!’ features a dispirited divorcee sporting a ‘menopausal bob’ who constantly attempts to put a positive spin on bad dates and her exchanges with her prickly grown-up children. She seems so painfully familiar that when she finally settles into a well-deserved bath, only to find herself in the middle of a virgin birth, you find yourself nodding along with her practical approach to the unexpected arrival. Another highlight is ‘Blithe Spirit’, in which an MP’s loyal secretary is left stranded in purgatory after being shot by a disgruntled constituent. Uninterested in vengeance, she tries to catch her favourite soap between morphing from woman to puddle to tree before settling inside some wallpaper.
Some of these stories fail