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A God in Ruins: Costa Novel Award Winner 2015 Paperback – 31 Dec 2015
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"Triumphant...such a dazzling read...Atkinson gives Teddy's wartime experiences the full treatment in a series of thrilling set pieces. Even more impressive,though, is her ability to invest the more everday events with a similar grandeur...almost as innovative as Atkinson's technique in Life After Life - a possibly more authentic as an expression of how it feels to be alive...it ends on one of the most devastating twists in recent fiction...it adds a further level of overwhelming poignancy to an already extraordinarily affecting book." -- James Walton Daily Telegraph "This is a novel about war and the shadow it casts even over generations who have never known it, but it is also a novel about fiction...this is a novel that cares deeply about its characters and about the purpose of fiction in making sense of our collective past. A God in Ruins, together with its predecessor, is Atkinson's finest work, and confirmation that her genre-defying writing continues to surpise and dazzle." -- Stephanie Merritt Observer "With A God in Ruins she, once again, proves herself to be a writer of considerable talent. Her command of structure is extraordinary...She writes with terrific compassion for her characters...also shows off a brilliantly brittle sense of humour that on several occasions made me laugh out loud...to my mind, A God in Ruins stands as an equally magnificent achievement." -- Matt Cain Independent on Sunday "Horribly funny...every page has some vividly original phrase...But the tour de force is her treatment of Teddy's experience as a bomber pilot, recreated as memorably as the Blitz scenes in Life After Life... nothing can quite account for the imaginative leaps she has made...nailbiting...a really affecting memorial to the huge numbers of bomber crew who died." Standard "Better than most fiction you'll read this year...Atkinson's prose is as bright as gunfire in the Second World War sections...I can't think of any writer to match her ability to grasp a period in the past. No, not even you, Booker-winning Hilary Mantel." The Times
About the Author
Kate Atkinson is one of the world’s foremost novelists. She won the Costa Book of the Year prize with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Her three critically lauded and prizewinning novels set around World War II are Life After Life, A God in Ruins (both winners of the Costa Novel Award), and Transcription.
Her bestselling literary crime novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie, Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News? and Started Early, Took My Dog became a BBC television series starring Jason Isaacs. Jackson Brodie returns in her new novel Big Sky.
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It’s a couple of years since I read Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life, so I have to admit I have forgotten many of the protagonists, with the exception of Ursula, the main character and Teddy her beloved little brother. Many of the other characters in that book are now just a blur.
That doesn’t seem to matter in A God in Ruins, because this is a stand alone book; nevertheless some of those characters make another appearance. In particular, this is Teddy’s book, and although his story is told in a completely different way, it is an Atkinson characteristic that the past, the present and the future are shuffled together like a pack of cards, with the readers, not exactly omniscient, but still knowing some things about the lives of the protagonists, even when they don’t.
Kate Atkinson gets under the skin of the characters very quickly, so within the first 50 pages, we have already met up with many of them, formed attachments and have empathy with them, despite their failings, when appropriate. She frequently disobeys rules which new writers are generally told to observe, like staying in the viewpoint of one character for a reasonable time. Sometimes she hops about, bringing in another’s thoughts in parentheses, in a way that is almost reminiscent of Virginia Woolf. I say this as someone who is not enamoured of VW, but I can forgive Kate Atkinson.
I enjoyed A God in Ruins despite my liking for plot, and this is down to the quality of Kate Atkinson’s writing. A God in Ruins hasn’t really got a strong plot; it tells the story of Teddy’s life, more or less from cradle to grave. In the course of it, we find out a lot about his wife and his daughter, his grandson and granddaughter. In Life after Life, it seemed that Teddy would have an idyllic life with his childhood sweetheart, Nancy, but in fact, it seems less idyllic in this book.
As far as the war is concerned, Kate Atkinson gives much insight into the role of Bomber Connmand in World War II, an area she obviously researched in depth. I must admit I had never really considered it much before, despite having a relation who was the rear gunner in a plane that crashed, and who stepped out of his plane, only to find it was about 80 ft in the air, the officers at the front of the plane having been killed. This part of the book is a well-deserved tribute to the men of Bomber Command, and I think adds a valuable dimension to an otherwise fairly uneventful life story.
Although Kate Atkinson writes with a very light touch and, even when describing the misery of Teddy’s dotage, manages to write in a jokey way, that part of the book is quite depressing, more so than the trauma of war, and the sorrow at dead companions. I am glad she allowed him to have, in the end, a kindly death. However, that death throws up a new problem. At the end of the book, we are suddenly thrown into a new situation; we are in effect told that Teddy didn’t die of old age, but actually died in the war, and all that followed on didn’t happen.
We know from Life after Life that in one scenario, Teddy was killed during the war. Because this is Kate Atkinson, I think we have to accept that this story is just one of the ways that Teddy’s life might have gone, that other paths might have been taken, and other events might have occurred. It is a post-modern novel offering the reader the chance to decide the fate of the characters, in the way that John Fowles did in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Alternatively, it is another way of paying tribute to the dead fighters of that and previous wars, showing us how many lives did not take place, how many descendants did not exist.
Nevertheless, Teddy was allowed to live in later versions of his life in Life after Life, and A God in Ruins is the result of that decision. Although I have a preference for Life after Life, A God in Ruins is a good and enjoyable book.