Apr 21, 2017

A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson

It took me far too long to pick up this companion novel to Atkinson's wonderful Life After Life, which I read years ago. That innovative novel followed the many iterations of protagonist Ursula's life, as she dies and is reborn as the same person over and over again. Teddy, the main character of A God in Ruins, is her younger brother, a bomber pilot who perishes in World War II. The unique nature of the previous book allowed Atkinson to write of Teddy's life as if he had survived the war, which only half of those pilots did. It's her way of humanizing the vast numbers of the dead, showing us how many lives just one life affects and now if that's not heartbreaking enough for you, multiply that by several million. It's a powerful message.

I'm a well-known Anglophile and am partial to Atkinson's very British, albeit contemporary, writing. Dry humor lies beneath every page, even in the darkest of moments. My one complaint would be that the characters other than Teddy come off as more caricatures than real people. His daughter is absolutely atrocious, even given some leeway because her mother died very young. It's hard to believe any normal person with a loving parent could be quite so horrible, and we seem to have to endure her just so we can witness her epiphany and reversal at the very end. I loved the way we skipped through time, though not the fact that Atkinson tends to draw our attention to it - "But that was yet to come, the future, and we are in the present, now." It's a bit much; perhaps she felt it necessary to keep the reader grounded as the time jumps occur quite often. Neither criticism detracts from the beauty of the whole, a really wonderful story about a horrible thing that had a lot of consequences, sometimes even good ones. The two books are a playful, powerful pair, and I'm so glad to have read them.

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