The highly anticipated follow-up to Kate Atkinson’s #1 bestseller Life After Life , “one of the best novels I’ve read this century” (Gillian Flynn). Kate Atkinson’s new novel tells the story of Ursula Todd’s beloved younger brother Teddy – would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband, and father – as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is facing the difficulties of living in a future he never expected to have. A GOD IN RUINS explores the loss of innocence, the fraught transition from the war to peace time, and the pain of being misunderstood, especially as we age.
My take: 2 looks
I was very eager to read this book. I LOVED “Life After Life” by Atkinson, recommending it to every reader I know. The author has described this, not as a sequel, but as a companion novel. It follows the life of Teddy, the much-loved sibling of “Life After Life” protagonist Ursula, as he grows from childhood to his eventual death.
I am going to try very hard to refrain from spoilers, but I also have to explain why this book is sorely lacking, especially after the brilliance of her last work.
First of all, it is extremely verbose. Three pages describe the drive down the lane to get to a manor house. Entire chapters are dedicated to Teddy’s bombing experiences. While these experiences are vital to the man Teddy becomes, the level of detail for each and every one invites skimming. Teddy was out of the RAF at age 29,and lived almost 70 years more. I wanted more of that life. Describe how the war affected him, yes, but from the perspective of the older man. Instead, Atkinson describes the same time frame again and again.
The cast of characters around Teddy was rich: Hugh, Sylvie, and the Shawcross family during his youth; Nancy and Viola during the middling years; and finally Bertie and Sunny during older years. These were all fully flawed characters, and very real, but I thought it odd that Atkinson showed the reader only one or two sides. For example, Viola was extremely difficult to like throughout the book, and when Atkinson hinted at redemption, she withdrew and left the outcome lacking. Did she receive redemption, or no?
Another example is Nancy. She seemed very aloof with Teddy, from her wartimes experiences to her illness. Was this intentional, or did Atkinson simply see her as a one-dimensional character? She was very forthcoming with her sisters, but not her husband? Why all the secrecy behind her wartime efforts, despite her promise to Teddy to tell all after the war? Yes, we see that she felt as if she threw away her life, but is that all we get to her inner struggle? Character development was too abbreviated for me.
To end on a high note, I will say that I enjoyed the chapters which told of similar events from a different character’s perspective. However, they were few and far between. I would have liked the book better if this had been more of the core concept, as opposed to the heavy-hand used during his RAF years. I also enjoyed the moments of stream-of-consciousness writing, going back and forth in time.
And to conclude: I felt the ending was a complete and total cop-out. It is not a plot twist, as some are wont to describe the heinous turn of events. I won’t say more other than to completely chide Atkinson for this dereliction of an ending. What could have possibly been three looks becomes a fractured two, making this…