- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (January 12, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316176508
- ISBN-13: 978-0316176507
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 925 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A God in Ruins: A Novel Paperback – January 12, 2016
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About the Author
Kate Atkinson is the internationally bestselling author of eight novels, including Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News?, Started Early, Took My Dog, and Life After Life. She lives in Edinburgh.
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The protagonist, Teddy (Edward) Todd, is a stoic bomber for the RAF. I learned more than I ever knew about the RAF, the mechanics of the bombers, especially the Halifax (Teddy’s plane), his different crews when he’s the Skipper, the strategy of the British and untold suffering. The average age of an RAF was 22, and only half of them survived. And shocking to me is that Churchill did not credit them after the war. A different perspective, for sure, of what the British, at least Atkinson, may think of Churchill. When Teddy is challenged about dropping bombs on innocents, Atkinson surely emphasizes her theme of savagery in the final analysis.
This epic novel stretches on to a century of Teddy’s life as Atkinson circles back in time to grab different points of view. The suppressed inner-workings of this British family are exposed. His mother Sylvie is a passionate woman who favors Teddy of all her children, her “best boy.” I believe I could almost touch his family. His wife, Nancy, is independent and enigmatic; her cordiality is a mystery at times. They have one child, Viola, who is gifted with the best dialogue. She wins the most selfish daughter and mother award, if there were such an award. Her responses are demeaning and nasty to her father and children, particularly her son, Sunny. Both of her children are born on a commune, sired by Viola’s husband, Dominic, possibly a bi-polar, child-like jerk. Viola’s daughter, Moon, serves as the philosopher symbolizing the inability of the family to communicate with each other.
Teddy, despite his love for family, cannot express his thoughts. He actually feels more comfortable as a bomber pilot than returning to the safety of family. His childhood love of nature evolves into a small journalistic job after the War. Atkinson emphasizes the goodness of Teddy and I wonder if he genetically passed on his inability to show emotion. The British stiff upper-lip and all that may not be elusive. Ursula emerges (sister to Teddy and star of Life After Life) when Atkinson wants to provide the reader with some humor and reality.
This novel is incredible, and I have only presented a cursory sample of this sprawling work. Reading Atkinson’s Afterword is somewhat illuminating but left me more in amazement of her intellect. Every scene and piece of dialogue is preparing the reader for the end of the book.
Now don't get me wrong- this book is beautifully written and there were moments I enjoyed during the reading experience. However, overall it was a slog. I cried a lot. This is a book that tugs unabashedly at the heartstrings, while offering little that is pleasant to offset the despair. It is very grim. I almost stopped half way through because it was making me so depressed, but I persevered and the ending did not make me feel any better at all. Overall, I can't say I enjoyed this book though it is an excellent literary work. I think my biggest annoyance is that now, when I go to re-read Life after life, Teddy will be tainted by my memory of this book. I'll still read anything Kate Atkinson writes in the future, as she remains one of my favorite authors.
The story takes place within various time periods that are interspersed throughout the novel quite fragmentally from 1925 to 2012. Although Atkinson admits to not being a historian, she does a good job to provide a part of British history during the second world war and interprets its symbolic importance through fiction and character Royal Air Force (RAF) Halifax bomber pilot Teddy, a central figure in the novel and metaphorically provides the birds-eye view of the war experience and one who survived it. There is no contest that philosophical and religious connotations emerge throughout the story much similar to a stream of though because of how Teddy’s memory and story is not told as a straight narrative; flashbacks disperse throughout each chapter and at times where the reader must focus in order to understand what is happening next. But as one focuses on the characters and their dilemmas and encounters, major themes arise such as rites of passages, age of innocence and traditional values, especially for Teddy who as a young man had dreams to be a wordsmith and write poetry and earn a Masters in Philosophy after attending Oxford. However, things changed within a blink of an eye, the war turned everything around and great expectations were left behind, “the future was a cage closing around him. Wasn’t life itself a great trip, its jaws waiting to snap” (119)?
A God in Ruins may be the type of novel that may need to be read more than once. Especially, consider why Atkinson included the short insert “The Adventures of Augustus – The Awful Consequences” by Delphie Fox twice, once in the beginning and second at the end of the novel. Of the many themes that are a part of the book two stand out, man’s encounters with morality and mortality and the effects of the war experience. One other footnote, the story has a slight similarity to the film 1947 film “Stairway to Heaven” that starred David Niven as a RAF pilot and Kim Hunter and the element of time and space continuum. But add other elements that extend within universal and religious lines and a post-modern world as told through literature.