106 of 116 people found the following review helpful
on 17 March 2006
Behind the Scenes at the Museum was Yorkshire mother of two, Kate Atkinson's first novel and this wonderful book it is definitely one to be celebrated.
Kate Atkinson was born in York and she chose the old walled City as the location for the tale of teenage Ruby Lennox and her family. The book starts from the moment of Ruby's conception in 1951, a moment grudgingly obliged by her mother, Bunty. Ruby starts the tale as a growing foetus, a baby inside her mother's womb. Boy, it sure did start to get uncomfortable in there after nine months, there sure wasn't a lot of room. Ruby was pushed into the world while her father George was in the Dog and Hare in Doncaster telling a women wearing a D-cup that he wasn't married.
Ruby tells the story of her family exploring complex family relationships, births, weddings, divorce, death, secrets and lies. She spends her childhood trying to placate her mother and playing with elder sister's Gillian and Patrica, under the shadow of the Minister, as they trundle along the old pebble-stone streets and in and out of the pet shop, the family business.
When she is just 5 Ruby is whisked away to stay with her Auntie Babs. She has no idea why, although she's sure that it's not a holiday. She has nightmares and begins to sleepwalk. When she returns no explanation is offered and her mother seems even more unhappy….
Atkinson divides Behind the Scenes at the Museum into Chapters and Footnotes: the Chapters focus on Ruby and her direct family life with her mother and father and her sisters. The Footnotes tie up unexplained information mentioned within the chapters, exploring the history of her family over the previous two generations further, starting with Ruby's great-grandmother Alice, who supposedly died giving birth. Although I liked the footnotes as a unique style of writing, they can cause the reader to lose the thread of the story somewhat, particularly if you are reading slowly.
The book is fluently written and poetic throughout. It is imaginative, thought provoking, hearth warming and funny. A lovely example of the poetic style of the story comes from Ruby's theory of the afterlife. She believes there must be a Lost Property Cupboard where all things we have ever lost have been kept for us - every button, every tooth, every lost library book and spare pen. Lost tempers and patience and innocence and the dreams we forget on waking…. A beautiful analogy.
As for the ending, it is unexpected and shocking, cleverly tying together previous events, fitting together the pieces of the puzzle.
I loved this book and I give it five stars. It is likely to be preferred by the ladies than the gents, although it is suitable for any ages. At 380 pages the book is a nice length, not too long but allowing time for the reader to get to know the characters and to understand Ruby's situation. It is a very British book, exploring life in the middle classes and if you are British, especially if you live in York, or the North, you simply must read it.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum was published in 1995 and it subsequently won the Whitbread prize for book of the year The novel also appears on the 2003 BBC Big Read at number 142.
Poor Ruby. Does anyone ever say that? No they don't. But they should and by the end of this book you will agree….
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 May 2015
Such an easy read and kept me sane through a 5.5-hour flight. I love Kate Atkinson's writing style, she's excellent at creating page-turning novels. Here, she builds up such a vivid picture of Ruby, her extended family and ancestors that by the end, you almost feel as if you know them. I did have to pause on occasion to get it straight in my mind who was related to whom, but that was all part of the enjoyment. I like the way the book flits across time, showing that emotions and family bonds run deep across time and space. It makes you think of your own ancestors living at the time of the two world wars and see them in a more real light than just faded, austere photographs. It has such an air of reality about it, I think that's probably what makes it so enjoyable, the ability to relate to the lives of all the characters. Having loved Life After Life so very much, I wasn't disappointed by Behind The Scenes At The Museum - a completely different story as a follow-up read but so engrossing nonetheless. I plan to buy many more of her books.
97 of 108 people found the following review helpful
I picked this book up as part of a 3 for 2 offer in a bookshop when I had already chosen my first two and was in a rush - I didn't even read the blurb on the back, I just vaguely remembered someone telling me how good it was.
What an absolute treat then to find that this ended up being the best of the lot - infact I can honestly say that I haven't enjoyed a book so much in a long time (and I read alot). From the very first paragraph I knew I was going to enjoy Behind the Scenes at the Museum; this book made me laugh and cry. The characters were all so real that I was desperate to know more about them, and I just love the way that the book jumps from present day to another time in the past of this strange but wonderfully fascinating family.
The story starts with the conception of Ruby Lennox in a drunken fumble with her parents in their House Above the Shop in York. Ruby narrates even before her birth and sets the scene with her family - a very disfunctional one at that. The second chapter then goes back in time to Ruby's Great-Grandmother, Alice and her 5 children and from here on in we flit back and forth between Ruby's life and those of her ancestors. All the characters in this book are so 3 dimensional it made me greedy to find out more about them and I found myself thinking about them even when I wasn't reading at the time.
I'm so glad I picked this book up and I am now desperate to read Kate Atkinson's other books. I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this book and can't recommend it highly enough.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 15 October 2003
What a wonderful book! Kate Atkinson has such a talent for bringing her characters to life - you feel you know them so well, you feel they MUST have existed. It's a book that can read over and over again and gain so much enjoyment from it (believe me, I've read it six times). Parts of it made me laugh out loud and others literally made me cry - some aspects are heartbreakingly poigniant. I'm a great reader, and without doubt this is the best book I've ever read. Ruby's tale will stay with you for a long, long time. A book to be savoured - having read it once, you can re-read chapters individually - it just gets better and better. All of you who havn't read it yet - what a treat you have in store! Kate Atkinson - what a wonderful talent!
47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on 4 May 2005
This book has to be one of my favourite books of recent years. It was just such a pleasure to read from beginning to end, that like most good books you just don't want it to end.
The characters were beautifully written, the plot even better, and there was such genuine wit and humour that it was very easy to laugh and cry at the same time.
The plot centres around the life of Ruby. Right from her conception we follow her in her life with her very disfunctional family.
If there's one book you're going to buy today then make it this one. You won't regeret it, and if for some reason you don't buy it today then make sure you do at some point, otherwise you'll be missing out something quite special.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 July 2000
This woman is a genious! The whole book is a wonderful and intelligent read. When reading the book, I could not put it down for days! The plots are very thourght provoking. My only critisism is that you get very lost in all the many characters and the jumping around of lives and periods in the century. What I loved was that you could really relate to the characters, whatever age, there was always someone and something for everyone! It was very clever to jump time, leaving the reader with a great sense of mystery and making one want to read on! We all have expirienced something Ruby has, maybe ony a bit, so we can relate to her in some sought of way. I urge you to read this book, it is well worth it!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2013
I love Kate Atkinson and have read almost all of her works (I just have her short stories and her upcoming latest to read)
This was actually the most recent that I've read and it did not disappoint.
It is gripping throughout and very emotionally charged. It is tinged with sadness and humour throughout. I love her ability to write from each characters perspective so eloquently, not matter what age, era or gender the person is. It is a true gift. Even the most menial character is given a strong presence and relevance, in just a few sentences of recognition. In fact every incident or description she includes holds real purpose and meaning, no matter how trivial it may first appear.
As some reviewers have stated, the book jumps between the main characters present day (which spans from the 60s onwards) and the lives of her grand mother and great grandmother and all that has happened in between. While I didn't find this unsettling to the point where it ruined the pace of the novel, I did find myself tempted to skim through some of the flash backs to get back to the current heroines chapters as her tragic story unfolded. I did persevere with it however and I'm glad that I did. Although I did find myself a little overwhelmed with the number of names one had to keep up with over the years! This is not a book which can be read in a day so its hard to digest quite so many characters over the nights I spent reading it (which is why I gave it 4 and not 5 stars)
However she does have a way of wrapping things up well, no matter how heartbreaking the conclusion; and she explores the reoccurring themes of motherhood, sacrifice and grief throughout the flashbacks and present day in a deep and intelligent way. I also love any author who displays the ability to write from a realistic child's point of view. It is harder than one might think to portray childlike perception and analysis of adult themes.
This book had me in floods of tears at one point and laughing out loud in others. I love books that make me feel deeply and recognise my own family in them I think that Kate Atkinson has got writing about the human condition, down to an art form.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 July 2012
I bought this book on a recommendation from a friend.
It took no effort to get into. I absolutely loved it...the tangled tale of the family intrigued me and kept me on my toes.I won't go into the story..I don't want to spoil it for you.
It was funny in places and sad in others. The characters were solid and believable.
I could have read it no time flat, but I 'rationed' myself so that the pleasure of reading it would last longer(how sad am I then?).
I was really sorry to get to the last page. One of the best reads I have had in ages.
I will certainly be reading this book again.
I heartily recomment it.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2001
This story isn't only seen through the eyes of a child, it is a deep complex book which needs to be read over again for the reader to actually see the complexity of Atkinson's story. It is one of those rare books which draws you in and creates a 3,4,even 5D image of its chracters. A real family saga, as well as a glimps into the mind of a growing girl, who is not only dealing with her own life, but with her mother, father and sisters - who are all more than interesting and complex characters, who we feel we know. This is a beautiful story, it makes the reader feel part of the family. Atkinson has a witty, sad, reflective, style of narrative. A beautifully captured story - which dare i say it is a perfect addition to novels which are fundimentally about women, it gave me the very real impression that Atkinson wants to write about women for women, giving us history from the point of view of women. About family (amazing descriptions of family members), fasion (great references to 60's and her sisters love of beatles) WW2, and Ruby's own experiences until she reaches her own independance; which is all linked to her (mainly female) inheritance. Read this book and be prepared to laugh and cry, and laugh again.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 2 August 2008
Not many novels begin while the narrator is still in the womb, but "Behind the Scenes at the Museum" is that rare book. It tells the story of Ruby Lennox, right from the very moment of her conception, and the story, too, of her family: her disillusioned mother, Bunty; her two, very different, sisters; and, futher back, her grandparents and great-grandparents.
Atkinson perfectly balances the different narratives - we not only follow Ruby and her sisters through childhood and adolescence, but see Bunty's youthful ideals become tarnished, and empathise with Nell, Bunty's mother, and her family. The tragedies and comedies of the older stories are movingly and simply told; the portraits of women during the First World War, in particular, are well-researched and very revealing.
Throughout the novel, in fact, Atkinson acheives a superlative blend of tragedy and comedy; the poignant moments balanced against the light-heartedness of some of Ruby's stories. Anecdotes like the "World cup wedding" and the "holiday from hell", especially, are brilliantly and wittily told, and Ruby's extended family is populated by perfectly-crafted bizarre characters.
It is at the end of the book, however, where Atkinson's talent really shows. All the pieces of Ruby's life and identity finally slot together: we finally see what really happened to Nell's mother Alice; the end of everybody's stories; and, most, importantly, the central mystery of Ruby's life, revealed so cleverly that you wonder why you hadn't worked it out before. A modern classic.