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Behind the Scenes at the Museum Hardcover – January, 1996

4.1 out of 5 stars 382 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"I exist!" exclaims Ruby Lennox upon her conception in 1951, setting the tone for this humorous and poignant first novel in which Ruby at once celebrates and mercilessly skewers her middle-class English family. Peppered with tales of flawed family traits passed on from previous generations, Ruby's narrative examines the lives in her disjointed clan, which revolve around the family pet shop. But beneath the antics of her philandering father, her intensely irritable mother, her overly emotional sisters, and a gaggle of eccentric relatives are darker secrets--including an odd "feeling of something long forgotten"--that will haunt Ruby for the rest of her life. Kate Atkinson earned a Whitbread Prize in 1995 for this fine first effort.

From Publishers Weekly

The narrator's insistent voice and breezy delivery animates this enchanting first novel by a British writer who won one of the 1993 Ian St. James Awards for short stories. Ruby Lennox is a quirky, complex character who relates the events of her life and those of her dysfunctional family with equal parts humor, fervor and candor-starting with her moment of conception in York, England, in 1959: "I exist!" Ruby then describes the family she is to join. Her parents own a pet shop; her mother, Bunty, bitterly rues having married her philandering husband, George, and daydreams about what her life might have been. Ruby has two older sisters, willful Gillian and melancholy Patricia. Through its ambitious structure, the novel also charts five generations and more than a century of Ruby's family history, as reported in "footnotes" that follow relevant chapters. (For example, a passage about a pink glass button reveals the story of its original owner, Ruby's great-grandmother Alice, who will abandon her young family and run off with a French magician.) Ruby's richly imagined account includes both the details of daily life and the several tragic events that punctuate the family's mundane existence. Though the "footnote" entries are not quite as gripping as those rendered in Ruby's richly vernacular, energetic recitation, Atkinson's ebullient narrative style captures the troubled Lennox family with wit and poignant accuracy.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 332 pages
  • Publisher: St Martins Pr; 1st U.S. ed edition (January 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312139284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312139285
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (382 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,180,637 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of the best books I have ever read. I've been carrying it around with me, showing to all my friends and recommending that they read it, too. It's magical, magnificent, a very great, important piece of writing. Although the story revolves around Ruby and her family, the lives of her maternal great-grandmother, grandmother and mother are woven into the story so that in effect, the there two books here: Ruby and pre-Ruby. Several reviewers have described this novel as "one of the funniest books to come out of Britain in years (The NY Times Book Review) and as "comic" (Boston Sunday Globe) and while Behind the Scenes is enormously charming, inventive and endearing, don't buy this expecting it to be a funny or humorous book. At times it is unbearably sad, sadness tinged with dark scamperings of horror. I was telling my husband about this book and he kept saying, "this sounds awful, terrible things keep happening to these people," ! and while that is true, the author tells this story with a beautiful lightness that keeps Ruby safe despite her sadness.
One thing I found very interesting about this book was the way the women's lives went from the unending drudgery of cooking, cleaning, mending, pregnancy and taking care of numerous children by Alice, the great-grandmother who lived in rural 19th century England, to the comparatively empty days of Bunty, Ruby's mother, days that are filled up with a dedication to housekeeping that only mimics what was once a necessity of life. Alice lived in a world where the failure to bake bread and to keep up with darning and mending meant that children went hungry and cold in winter.
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Format: Paperback
When you see the title of this book, you immediately come to the conclusion that this book must be about a little girl who's family owns a museum.
This museum turns out to be just like the museum that YOUR OWN family owns.
Exhibits at the "Lennox family museum" include:
A. A pink, daisy-shaped, glass button
B. A lucky rabbit's foot
C. A George VI coronation teaspoon
D. A bright, artificial smile
E. Bunty's unbearably sad childhood
F. Rabbit-shaped clouds hanging in the sky like zepplins
G. "Mind your boots, Lily"
H. A plane in a death spin
I. Your sister says not to worry
J. The silver locket
K. Thinking about home
Strange exhibits for a museum, don't you think?
These "exhibits" are simply items and memories belonging to several generations of the Lennox family. Each "exhibit" carries with it a history and a memory that the casual onlooker cannot fathom. Some people, like Ruby Lennox, feel that "the past is what you leave behind in life". However, others, like Patricia Lennox, feel that "the past is what you take with you". You decide. Can you really understand the past by simply viewing an object or are most museums (the real type and the kind you might have in your home) full of objects that are unable to tell their stories without an all-knowing narrator?
This book follows the life of Ruby Lennox from conception onward: "I exist! I am conceived to the chimes of midnight on the mantelpiece in the room across the hall." From this intriguing beginning, the book draws you in. You immediately fall in love with Ruby, her flustered mother Bunty, and her quirky English family.
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Format: Paperback
Friends sharing books they love usually means you're in for a treat. Thanks, Anya! BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE MUSEUM is a total triumph of a book. Voted a Whitbread Book of the Year when published in 1995 this extraordinarily entertaining novel was the first novel by Kate Atkinson and she surely knows her stuff. Not only is the writing of the first caliber, but the technique of storytelling is invigorating and fun and warm and tragic and in short, about as fine a coming of age novel as anyone has written.
Ruby Lennox narrates this delectable tale of her life in a dysfunctional geneology from the point of her conception ( thoroughly entertaining view of life from within the uterus) through her childhood and young adulthood up to the age of 41. Atkinson divides her book into Chapters and Footnotes: the Chapters are the chronological tale of the wonderfully crazy Ruby and her sisters and bizarre mother and father and the Footnotes after each chapter explore the history of her English family for the past century. This affords the reader with a history and an interpretation of that history by wily little girl who is wise beyond her antics. Ruby knows there must be a Lost Property Cupboard (her theory of the afterlife) 'where (when we die) all things we have ever lost have been kept for us - every button, every tooth..library books, all the cats that never came back...tempers and patience...meaning and innocence..dreams we forgot on waking, nestling against the days lost to melancholy thoughts....' That is just a sample of the beauty of Atkinson's writing gifts.
The world finally focuses for Ruby but to tell how would alter the joy of discovery this wonderful little character. 'I'm in another country, the one called home. I am alive. I am a precious jewel. I am a drop of blood. I am Ruby Lennox.' This is some of the best writing you'll find. After you've spent a rewarding time reading it, share it with someone you love. Again, Thank you Anya!
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