A God In Ruins – Kate Atkinson

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A God In Ruins – Kate Atkinson Empty A God In Ruins – Kate Atkinson

Post by Graham on Mon Dec 17, 2018 5:18 pm

Atkinson is an accomplished novelist, so I was surprised to find this one disappointing. Like Clare North’s The End of the Day it is largely due to the author’s decisions on sequencing the story. Chapters skip back and forth through the life of WWII veteran Teddy Todd. They are headed with dates but within them past events and glimpses of the future are jumbled willy-nilly in a way that is disconcerting and at times downright confusing. It might be an attempt to recreate the mental state of Teddy as he negotiates old age, but it also includes parts of the story he doesn’t participate in so it’s just confusing and fails to involve the reader.

Another effect of the haphazard chronology is that we often first become aware of deaths and misfortunes as either future or past events that the book will eventually relate. This envelops the book in a permanent gloom of loss and sadness at odds with some of Atkinsons’s jocular writing. She is clearly aiming for sympathy for Teddy’s status now as an old codger badgered by his selfish daughter Viola into unwelcome sheltered accommodation. Viola is a caricature, self-centred and having taken up permanent residence with the fairies. It’s difficult initially to imagine how Teddy and wife Nancy, both portrayed sympathetically, could have created this monster. Light is eventually cast on a formative childhood experience but with only one throwaway line during a psychotherapy session little is made of it. Only granddaughter Bertie seems to have inherited the family traits of amusement and tolerance. Her brother Sunny takes after Viola and competes with her in the self-absorption stakes.

The time jumps circle around Teddy’s war-time experiences as Wing-commander of a bomber squadron, and Teddy and Sunny’s visit to a war cemetery is one of the few emotionally charged scenes in the book. Surprisingly the chapters describing the bombing raids are the most effective even though they are still shot through with reminiscences. Is that the way the mind works when faced with death?

In the latter half of the book the story belongs more to Sunny and Viola. Peacenik Viola abandons Sunny to the tender mercies of his maternal grandparents in a crumbling mansion filled with dogs only slightly less nippy than the grandmother. The cartoonish Viola eventually becomes a best-selling novelist. Atkinson clearly knows something we don’t, but she lets both stories peter out unsatisfactorily.

There is a final conceit that I will leave you to discover yourself, but I found the whole thing a bit tedious.


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