Review: ‘A God in Ruins’ by Kate Atkinson

As you may know from my recent review of Life After Life, I was pretty excited to discover Kate Atkinson. I’d never read her work before and found it enchanting.

A God in Ruins is the parallel companion to Life After Life, picking up the same characters and setting (almost), following someone else. This time, Atkinson centres Teddy Todd, Ursula’s adored younger brother. Universally loved and gentle Teddy. I was incredibly fond of his character before I even picked this book up, and it did a wonderful job of developing that character further for me. What I loved about Life After Life became even more true here – that Atkinson’s characters are fantastically three-dimensional and well formed, having not only qualities that we are fond of or ones we are exasperated with, but a mesh and blend of lots of little things that make them who they are. They are not only sketched out but fleshed and moving.

A God in Ruins

As the previous book is very strongly concerned with narrative structure, I was interested in how Atkinson would approach Teddy’s story. While the younger Todd sibling lives his life just the once, it isn’t told strictly chronologically. I really enjoyed the gradual teasing out of the major events in Teddy’s life and how moving back and forth in time draws connections between his different experiences. The themes that Atkinson explores here are beautifully varied, with an obvious focus on war and its effect on the survivors, but equally its effect on subsequent generations who did not experience it themselves.

[spoilers this para – definitely only read if you’ve read the book!]
The ending of the book, I’ll be honest, threw me a bit at the time. I love the world and the future that Atkinson creates for Teddy, as a survivor of the war, as a husband, a father and a grandfather, and I was confused to have it all shaken out as a life flashing before his eyes. But on reflection, with a bit of time for the surprise to settle, I like it. It’s not so close to the old (and very irritating) and he woke up and it had all been a dream as to seem that way, and it isn’t a get-out clause from untied plot ends. It’s a nod to the wibbly-wobbliness of time that Life After Life made, and at the same time it is a clever little aside to the fact that we were reading anyway. By the nature of fiction, none of it happened at all.

This book is one of my favourites of my year so far – it is intricate, full of lots of tiny little stories which when connected make up a whole beautiful and complicated life. I absolutely recommend it. Whether you read to find good characters, for compelling plot or for brilliant writing, I found all of them here.

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