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Review: A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

It’s been ages since I posted.  I’ve been busy working, reading, writing and doing a bundle of school governance related tasks.

I’ve slightly lost count of who all my reading recommendations have come from, which is a shame, as I’d like to thank whoever thought that I would love A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson, because I did!

I wasn’t mad about Atkinson’s Life After Life, which I found a bit emotionally detached due to all the different possible lives its heroine, Ursula led – I didn’t have a sense of her as one distinct character.

I thought that the descriptions of the war were the best part of Life after Life.  A God in Ruins follows the story of Teddy, Ursula’s brother, in a more conventional narrative: what happens to him in the war, and subsequently, through marriage, parenthood, grandparenthood and old age.

Again, I felt a little frustrated at a certain emotional evasiveness, especially in the context of the war writing.  I’m not that experienced a reader of war writing, but of the books I’ve read, I’d say that Atkinson rates as one of the best, if not the best, at capturing the pathos of both war and death. (War and Peace, yes I know, it’s arrived and is sitting staring at me from the bookcase, all 900 tiny fonted pages of it.  We’ll see how it compares.)

By contrast, the strained relationships of the family members during peacetime seemed a little petty, and some of the characters, such as Teddy’s daughter Viola, were almost completely unsympathetic.

The other thing that Atkinson definitely does better than any other author I know is to convey the sense and wonderment of “What if…?” When I read Behind the Scenes at the Museum, I was totally blown away by the way she described all the things the characters  would never know about each other, heartbreaking juxtapositions of connections that would never be made.

Yet as I counted down the pages to the end of them book, I could feel myself appreciating these, thinking they were good, but feeling it still wasn’t quite enough…

… until I got to the end and everything came together and it was amazing.  I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before.

I am going to go and do some more governor stuff, and finish laminating my pain au chocolat now.  I have tried these twice and am still trying to get them right.  Am mainly having problems with the butter leaking out and losing the layers.  The latest theory I have read is not to prove the dough before layering, and make sure the butter is not too hard, that way it won’t burst through.

We shall see…

 

 

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. Excellent summing up of this book Denise. I’ve recently read it, being a fan of Kate Atkinson, and I wasn’t disappointed. Life After Life was too ambitious, although her characterisations were as good as ever. Behind the Scenes is one of my all time favourite reads. I wish I could write like that! Good to see you back in the land of the blog, my dear 😉

  2. I’m going to take full credit for saying I think you’d love this book, even if it wasn’t necessarily me!, and am so glad you enjoyed it as much as I did. I think we did converse about Scenes at the Museum – and your review has really made me want to re-visit it, as I read it such a very long time ago. So while I hunt that out you can contemplate picking War & Peace up – quite the challenge but oh so worth the weighty arms… look forward to seeing when you bite the bullet!

    • It could very well have been you, I’m glad I managed to track you down to say thanks. I really appreciate being able to find all these good reads through people’s recommendations.

      • Me too, it’s absolutely brilliant. I’m still not sure it was actually me (!) but it’s always so great to read reviews that echo similar sentiments experienced with certain books like this one. I agree, it’s such a good read.

  3. I really liked that Atkinson didn’t use the same structure but did acknowledge it at the end which was a very nice touch. I like to think Viola might have acted differently in another version of her life.

    • I wish I’d taken pics. They were quite browned and there was some loss of layering and I felt very self conscious about them as they generally didn’t look great. However, by the next day, they had all been eaten. They were *really* nice. Filling them with Mars Bars and Lindt chocolate was just amazing 🙂

  4. I admit I haven’t read any of KA’s books, albeit I see them everywhere in bookstores. Your review is succinct yet also outlining what a reader would confront. Thanks for sharing your views. Since I’m into book to movie, tell me, has any of Atkinson’s works been turned into film? Or in your opinion, any title that you think should?

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