A stunning book.
I suppose I should have read Kate Atkinson’s previous book Life After Life concerning other members of this family, but I hadn’t. However, I can testify that A God in Ruins, can be read on its own and enjoyed for itself.
The central character, Teddy, comes over as decent, kind, and likeable. He stoically endures the many vicissitudes that life throws at him, from his wartime experiences, to the awful death of his wife and the disapproval of his surly, unloving daughter.
The book’s structure is amazing as it flashes backwards and forwards in his life. I’m in awe at the author’s skill in interweaving these incidents and complex time-frames together so that the reader is never lost. Indeed, I was totally engrossed and moved by the plight of many of the characters such as bewildered lost Sunny, the more robust Bertie and perhaps, eventually, Viola herself who seems, at last, almost serene. The book is at its most poignant when we enter the heads of these people and see things from their point of view.
Wonderful images abound in the book, such as the hare, Teddy’s lucky charm, and the very significant symbol of the skylark. Although the central character is Teddy, the book is alive with strong women. They dominate the story and often dominate him.
But the central theme of the book is war and the effects it has on those living through it and on the subsequent generations. Teddy’s war experiences as a bomber pilot in WWII are deeply harrowing. The chapters describing the raids are brilliantly told, breath-holdingly enthralling and so gripping you feel you are there. I was lost in admiration and immensely moved.
The twist at the end shocked me and left me reeling.
And on a deeply personal level, this was definitely in my top ten of the best books I’ve ever read.