A God In Ruins
by Kate Atkinson
Kate Atkinson’s dazzling Life After Life, one of the top selling adult books of 2014, explored the possibility of infinite chances, as Ursula Todd lived through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. In A God in Ruins, Atkinson turns her focus on Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy – would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband and father – as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.
A God In Ruins is the companion book to Life After Life, Kate Atkinson’s magnificent book about the Todd family but in particular Ursula who died and was re-born on a regular basis. In A God In Ruins it is Teddy’s story that we follow, Ursula’s beloved brother, and while we don’t have the time-altering structure of Life After Life, we have timelines flitting backwards and forwards between Teddy’s younger years, his war years and his post-war years. Juxtaposing the different timelines gives a different perspective on characters and their behaviour. The monstrous Viola, Teddy’s daughter, is blazingly angry towards her father and treats the ‘war hero’ appallingly. Later we find out she has her reasons but we also see how unforgiving she is and how bitter it has made her.
Atkinson takes us deep into the heart of her characters and leaves us caring deeply for most of them. Not only Teddy but his wife Nancy, daughter Viola and his grandchildren Sunny and Bertie. The chapter given over to Sunny’s childhood is heartbreaking and is a book in itself.
The way Kate Atkinson injects humour into what are sometimes harrowing circumstances with just one or two well-placed words is genius and captures life, especially English life of this period, perfectly.
The chapters on war, Teddy’s war as a part of bomber command flying Halifax planes, are brilliant slices of drama that take you on journeys that you would really rather not know about let alone participate in. The horror is brought to life unflinchingly.
There are huge themes at work in this book; war: man’s fall from grace; fate: how life can change in the blink of an eye; human nature: how much can it survive and keep going.
This is a hard book to review because there are so many aspects to discuss and I obviously don’t want to spoil it for anybody. So you may as well just go out, buy it and read it. It is wonderful.
I have taken 1/2 a star off for the use of the American z spelling throughout this book, churlish I know but it annoys me and I can’t think why you would in this very English book.