- Paperback: 332 pages
- Publisher: Picador USA; 1st edition (February 1, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312150601
- ISBN-13: 978-0312150600
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 23.1 x 207.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 406 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,454 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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"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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
You may be overwhelmed by the maze of characters and wonder why you're reading about them. They are the "behind the scenes". And by the way, there's no museum in this book. So why the title?. You have to mine for meaning. But again that's why I love Kate's writing.
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.