Tracy and The Sand-Man: The Uncanny in Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took my Dog

Authors: Henesy, M.

Conference: Illusions in Contemporary Women‘s Writing: Secrets, Lies and Deceptions

Dates: 9-10 April 2015


In her 2010 detective novel Started Early, Took My Dog, Kate Atkinson presents two worlds. The first, 1975 Yorkshire where the murder of prostitutes and disappearance of children is brushed under the carpet by a corrupt police force, and the second, contemporary Yorkshire, where similar murders are once again occurring. The link which holds these two worlds together is Tracy, a common sense retired policewoman who was involved with the original investigations in the 70s, and whose life has suddenly taken a new direction thanks to purchasing a child from a prostitute in an out-of-character momentary impulse.

The homes which Tracy encountered as a young police woman subvert all ideas of the home as a place of comfort and respite; rather they house secrets, violence and cruelty in uncanny ways. The suggestion of one unidentified yet seemingly respectable serial misogynist who performs the cruelty witnessed by Tracy resembles the ‘Sand-man’ of Freud’s essay ‘The Uncanny’, a reputable man who also appears myth-like in his desire to torture and his ability to go unnoticed. He is also symbolic of the disconcertingly high number of serial killers who resided in Yorkshire at the time, a few of whom are referred to by Atkinson in the first pages of the novel.

This paper will explore how Atkinson weaves aspects of the uncanny into her novel to explore the darkness behind the domestic dream, and the social realities which allowed the nightmarish Sand-Man character to exist.

Source: Manual