- Paperback: 332 pages
- Publisher: Picador USA; 1st edition (February 1, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780312150600
- ISBN-13: 978-0312150600
- ASIN: 0312150601
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 380 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,976 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Behind the Scenes at the Museum: A Novel Paperback – February 1, 1997
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“Remarkable . . . A multigenerational tale of a spectacularly dysfunctional Yorkshire family and one of the funniest works of fiction to come out of Britain in years.” ―Ben Mcintryre, The New York Times Book Review
“Scoundrels, malcontents, misfits, and cheats. Every family has them, though seldom are they handled with the winsome wit and wisecrackery that make Behind the Scenes at the Museum such a smart and funny read.” ―The Washington Times
“Startlingly original . . . A poignant and beautifully wrought portrait of a young girl's growth.” ―Johanna Stoberock, The Seattle Times
“Really comic, really tragic, bracingly unsentimental . . . What a triumph! What joy!” ―The Boston Sunday Globe
“An effervescent, affecting delight.” ―Rebecca Radner, The San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle
About the Author
Kate Atkinson is the author of Behind the Scenes at the Museum, winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year, Human Croquet, Emotionally Weird, Not the End of the World, Case Histories, One Good Turn, and Life after Life. She lives in Edinburgh, UK.
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Yes, "Behind the Scenes at the Museum" won the Whitbread Award, and is an impressive first novel. but, it is my least favorite of Atkinson's work. Here's why. The Brodie novels are relatively tight novels in which intertwined lives are lived in orbit around private detective Jackson Brodie. Atkinson's descriptions are vivid, her characters - particularly women - well drawn, the dialogue expressive but realistic (mostly), and the relationships plausible. I liked them a lot.
"Life After Life" is something of an over-long shaggy dog story of lives relived and altered by death and changed circumstance. Think of it as a 20th century historical "butterfly effect." Again, Atkinson presents memorable characters and scenes in a plot that is ordained from the first page. Atkinson could have reached her conclusion at many different points of the book, and so it seems unnecessarily drawn out. Still, I enjoyed it.
In "Behind the Scenes at the Museum," Atkinson presents her full bag of tricks - hyper-observant children, dysfunctional families, character asides to the reader, footnote chapters detailing the lives of previous generations, impressive imagery, and a drawn-out story with a quick ending. It's as if Atkinson was participating in her very own writer's workshop, trying this, trying that, and keeping all of it. In her subsequent novels, particularly the Brodies, she has exercised more self-restraint, and those novels are better for it.
Personally there was great interest for me in the children's adolescence,especially that of Pat as I could relate to the decade and the attitudes of the times.
To paint a picture of a life from a babe in the womb to an adult ,from no understanding of her surrounding, to an adult with her own take on life and a future with her own now grown - up family takes talent;it was a clever style to adopt
My only adverse criticism is that the narrator's move from meeting her husband to her later years was somewhat truncated and lacked the detail of the earlier stages of the novel. I suppose if the author wanted to describe the realities of ordinary lives,then there was no likelihood of a spectacular ending just a progression through the humdrum of everyday life til its inevitable end.Despite Bunty's tragic losses, I did not find myself having much sympathy with her character. Perhaps I like my books to take me out of the real world just a little but the real world was painted well by the author.
This book is essentially the story of Ruby Lennox, “told” in first person, from the exact moment of her conception in 1951. She immediately takes note of her new world, learning about her future surroundings with awe, innocence, and a bit of apprehension. She feels apprehension for a very good reason. As soon as we see her new family, we know the poor girl is in trouble as soon as her drunken father nakedly rolls off her annoyed mother. As mom and dad (Bunty and George) start the next day, you can see that this couple - and their family of two girls, is a long long way from “Father Knows Best”. There’s no love at all in this house, and Dad sleeps around a lot in addition to his frequent drinking binges. On the outside, the family does do a good job appearing normal in 1950’s England, as they live above a pet shop that provides the family their income. Money wise, they seem to be o.k., but oh, what a miserable family.
When Ruby is born and grows up (the chapters in the book jump around a few years at a time), the family, fortunately, doesn’t realize just how miserable they are. How can you call yourself miserable when you’ve only known misery your whole life? So they plod along as best they can. If this book sounds too depressing to pick up, well, that’s part of the irony that makes this book so good. The author has a way of injecting odd bits of humor and every turn, to where you can’t help laughing at these poor sods.
This book isn’t just about Ruby and her immediate family. Oh no. There are tons of aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, grandparents, neighbors, etc. that will make your head spin. It’s very easy to get lost with all of these individuals coming and going between the pages. A diagram of a family tree at the beginning of the book would have been quite helpful. Fortunately, the extended family members don’t play too large of a role within the Lennox clan, so you don’t feel as though you’ve missed that much when you confuse “Ted” with “Tom”, etc.
In fact, the book almost spends as much focus on Bunty (Ruby’s mom) as Ruby herself. There are several flashbacks of Bunty, herself, when she was young, and we even go back a prior generation as well. We see lots of premature death, a wicked step mother, two world wars (many relatives killed), and a couple of diseases. It seems as though Ruby’s mom, and her mom before her, were raised in similar tumultuous surroundings, so it’s not really much of a surprise when the cycle simply begins anew for Ruby and her siblings.
So we follow Ruby all the way until she is a middle aged adult. Sadly, we never arrive at any sort of happy destination, nor do we see any changes for any future generations, but I still found the book a joy to read overall. As mentioned, there were a tad too many relations and characters, but perhaps this was done purposely to add to the chaos of these individuals warped lives. I’ll also point out that there are “hints” early in the book about a very dramatic event in Ruby’s childhood that is never described in much detail - and once the event has passed, your left scratching your head thinking you may have missed something. The “event” is revealed much later in the story, and I must say that it was a bit unnecessary. The whole episode probably could have been left out of the book without detracting at all from the story.
If you’re looking for a deliberate tale with a steadfast purpose within a story, this book probably isn’t for you. However, if you enjoy having a first-hand glimpse of the comings and goings of a warped family (think reality t.v.), then I bet you would enjoy this one.