There are very few writers who can literally take my breath away, but Kate Atkinson is one of them (the other is Sarah Waters.) As I read this, I was aware that I was reading, if not her masterpiece, one of her best novels.
I had very high hopes- I had read Life After Life early last year and loved it. The tale of a woman who got to live her life again and again should have been a slightly ridiculous prospect, but it was so beautifully, so realistically, written that I never doubted Atkinson for a second. Naturally, I was looking forward to spending time with the handsome Teddy Todd, the dashing war hero brother of Life After Life’s protagonist, Ursula.
You don’t have to have read Life After Life to understand the story of A God In Ruins (which is good, because I was a bit hazy on some of the plot points of the previous novel), but there are lots of subtle links between the books if you know where to look. We see the Todd family from a different angle and we follow Teddy- absent for much of Ursula’s story- throughout his life, from boyhood to death. And, oh, I must tell you at this point: no one writes a death scene as beautifully, sensitively and emotively as Atkinson. I was almost in tears a few times.
We learn about Teddy’s marriage, literally to the girl next door; his wartime heroism and flings in dingy hotels during the Blitz; his role as father to the difficult Viola and grandfather to the troubled Sunny and the stoic Bertie. (Bertie, his granddaughter, has more than a shade of Ursula about her. I loved her character.) The dense plot peels away the layers of each character and even the characters who seem unsympathetic- such as the selfish Viola- elicit empathy and understanding.
This is a book about life and death, about the butterfly effect our lives have in the world. There’s a moment near the end where it’s as if the author has snapped her fingers and everything I thought was happening disappeared.
I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. I urge you to read it and Life After Life, if you have yet to do so. You won’t be disappointed.