A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson

What
is the sum of a life?  In a
companion piece to Atkinson’s earlier Life
After Life,
A God in Ruins asks
the question, how do you take all the disparate parts of a life, the ones
everyone knows about, the ones nobody knows about, the ones people have wrong,
and add them up to some final measure of quality, of richness; how do you
declare a life well-lived?  In her
previous novel, in which Ursula Todd lived life over and over through the
incalculable permutations any life can take given different decisions we might
all make, trying to get it right, Atkinson showed herself to be an astute
observer of the small details that make a story worth reading, and she doesn’t
disappoint in A God in Ruins.

This
novel is, on the surface, about Teddy, Ursula’s little brother, however it
spiderwebs out to tell the stories of Teddy’s daughter, Viola, her two children
Sunny and Berty, as well as Nancy Shorecross, who Teddy eventually marries.
Teddy, like everyone, does not live his life in a vacuum.  He is shaped by and shapes the lives of
his family and friends.  Teddy’s is
also the story of a nation’s, enduring the nightmare of World War II.  Ursula’s story, in Life After Life, told it from the point of view of London during
the Blitz.  Teddy’s is the story of
the bombers and pilots tasked with trying to win the war by ruining Germany’s
infrastructure and morale.  Anyone interested
in World War II narratives will find this an extremely compelling narrative;
non-WWII aficionados, be prepared become one.

Atkinson’s
style is not that of the cliffhanger or great quest to be achieved, but rather
the slow winding out of a skein of wool as the story is knitted together ever
so meticulously, not revealing the full meaning until the very last.  Her narrator is like an old friend, who
has told this story countless times and is reciting it, not to tell some great
truth, but that it might not be forgotten. 

Lovers
of contemporary fiction will enjoy the breadth of this narrative, which spans
from the opening salvos of World War I, through the first decade of the new
millennium.  The characters in this
novel tell the story of a rapidly changing world, and those attracted to
character-driven narrative will find much to love in it.  Readers who enjoy non-linear
narratives, especially including digressive narrative style, will enjoy the
puzzle-piece aspect of the novel. 
And of course, those interested in English fiction, and World War II,
will be captivated by the research and stark reality Atkinson presents.  This is far from a romanticized version
of war.

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