A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
|A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Kate Atkinson has a talent possessed by remarkably few. Her writing is unashamedly literary but still eminently readable. One of the best books I've read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 400/16h29m||Date: May 2015|
|External links: Author's website|
Winner: Costa Novel Award 2015
Longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction
Teddy Todd never really expected to survive the war. As a bomber pilot it wasn't something which you could rely on and he certainly knew the statistics. But - against all the odds, he came through it, albeit with some time spent as a prisoner of war. On balance he had a good war, but time will see him married to Nancy, father to Viola and grandfather to Sunny and Bertie - and left with the feeling that it's more difficult to have a good peace than a good war.
If you've read Life After Life you might be thinking that this sounds a little familiar. Teddy was the adored younger brother of the heroine, Ursula and A God in Ruins stays (mostly) with one of Ursula's incarnations for this story. I usually do my best to avoid books which are sequels or 'companion pieces', as Kate Atkinson refers to this story, unless I've read and loved the earlier book, but I made an exception this time. Firstly, it was on the shortlist for the Costa Novel Award for 2015 and I couldn't believe that a book which didn't stand alone could reach that stage. I didn't have the opportunity to read Life After Life and I was intrigued to find out if the book really did work on its own. Secondly, I loved Behind the Scenes at the Museum and I knew that whatever else I might find, the writing would be stunning.
Not expecting to survive the war hadn't been devastating to Teddy. He had always been relentlessly unambitious, following his father's advice to just sort of paddle about in the middle. Even when he survives he has no grand ambitions, wanting only to live a good quiet life. This might make him sound boring, but he's anything but and my heart went out to him. Perhaps it's always the way of things that his daughter Viola should react against his values and lead anything but a good quiet life - and that her children should react against her. I sensed Atkinson's love for Teddy too: she seemed determined to celebrate his ordinary life, his sense of obligation and determination to do his duty. There's self-restraint about Teddy which makes him blossom large in your mind, particularly when public opinion turned against those of bomber command who had risked (and frequently lost) their lives for their country.
I've come to regret (rather than condemn) what happened in our name during the war and along with it I've developed a mild aversion to novels about the war, so I was completely taken aback when a couple of set pieces about bombing missions were absolutely riveting. None of the pieces about the war repelled me as I expected, perhaps because I'd already invested a great deal of myself in the characters, not least because I already knew what would happen to them after the war, which brings me to another literary device which I normally find annoying.
My preference is for a linear narrative. I like to start at the beginning and read through to the end. I think of the nonlinear narrative as 'dodging about all over the place', but A God in Ruins is a nonlinear narrative par excellence, only this time I thought of it as an exquisite intermingling of the story, which built to a stunning conclusion. It was rather like having a chat with a friend who was bringing you up to date on a big story and which often required that you go back and fill in a gap of which you were unaware.
The writing was, as I expected, excellent. I'm in awe of the planning that must have gone into building the plot. But I had a bonus with this book. I listened to an audio download, narrated by Alex Jennings and it was superb, delivering a full range of voices which were completely convincing. The best narrators leave you feeling as though you've been listening to a play with added commentary and Jennings achieved that easily.
This is the point at which I normally thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag, but I bought the download myself!
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You can read more book reviews or buy A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson at Amazon.com.
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