Friday, December 11, 2015

'A God in Ruins' by Kate Atkinson

11 December 2015

Kate Atkinson's novel 'Life After Life' (reviewed here in June 2013) was a family saga with a twist, following Ursula Todd through a series of interrupted versions of her life with a Groundhog Day structure. Though Ursula's life, spanning most of the twentieth century, is the focus of the book, it is the love story of her younger brother Teddy and his childhood sweetheart Nancy that forms the emotional heart of the novel. Kate Atkinson has now returned to the Todd family with 'A God in Ruins' – a sequel or companion piece to 'Life After Life' (which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Alex Jennings) which tells Teddy's story. Kate Atkinson is an ambitious novelist whose beautifully written prose creates very easily accessible books that play mischievously with the form of the novel. In 'A God in Ruins' she abandons the tricksy stop-start format of 'Life After Life' in favour of painting a picture of Teddy's life which jumps forwards and backwards in time, only gradually filling in the gaps. This jigsaw plot wrong-foots the reader as many of our assumptions and theories are disproved. Atkinson also pulls the rug from under fans of the previous novel by showing Teddy to have had a fairly dull life, his romance with Nancy proving not to have been quite so perfect as Ursula thought it. 'A God in Ruins' is dominated by Teddy's wartime service as a bomber pilot: the descriptions of bombing missions over Germany are detailed and harrowing and this experience colours all of Teddy's later life and relationships. 'A God in Ruins' is a uniformly melancholy book and often feels quite slow (and maybe over long) but I can forgive it much for its ending – do read right to the end for a satisfyingly clever twist. 'A God in Ruins' is sad, slow, frustrating but also rather brilliant.



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