The books I have read (3): Kate Atkinson God in Ruins



kateatkinsonGod in Ruins, from Kate Atkinson, has yet to be  translated into French but will probably be soon, as most of her books have already been. She is best known for her trilogy about  Jackson Brodie, an engaging detective, which led to a TV series. As almost always, I preferred the  books to the TV series, for the usual reasons, but I must say that some of the actors of the series were impressive, including the detective. But as usual, it is impossible for a TV show to have the same depth as the book it is based on.

As  for God in Ruins, it is a sequel, or a companion,  Atkinson prefers to say, to  Life after Life, a book that examines the life  of  Ursula Todd, or rather   the different lives she might have had at the time of the Second World War. God in Ruins is the story of her brother, Ted, who became  a  war pilot and  who, against all odds, survived the war, to take on  a life to which he had  not prepared for,  somehow. It is also the story of his wife, Nancy, his daughter, Viola, and his grandchildren, Bertie and Sunny. According to the Guardian, it is Atkinson’s  the best book to date. It is true that  Atkinson brilliantly  masters her style  in this book. I particularly admire the way she manages to contrast what the characters say and what they think, using parentheses. The chapters go from one period to another  without losing the plot. Moreover, it describes admirably the interiority of the characters. Some passages in this book, particularly those dealing with Viola’s  relationship with her  father, or how Nancy interacts with her husband when she knows she will die soon (I am not guilty of  spoiling  the plot, because we know very early  in the book that Nancy died)  haunted me for several days. One wonders, throughout the   book, why Viola is horrible with her father but it is only revealed  at the end (but in an unsatisfactory manner, in my opinion). Atkinson did perhaps not want this, but one feels she has a soft spot for Ted and, through the character of Viola, she  describes  baby boomers (her own “tribe”), as a narcissistic generation, always unsatisfied, unable to love, among other things. I eagerly read most of the book, but I lost interest a few times, without knowing exactly why. Perhaps because there seemed to be two books in this book: Ted’s war, on the one hand, and the history of the rest of the family, on the other hand, or at least that of Viola and her children. As for the end, which I found rather facile and perhaps even a bit lazy, it ruined (for me) what was otherwise an excellent book (others believe that it is an extraordinary end, you will have to make up your own mind), even if it is true that the end contains an interesting reflection about  the frontier between fiction and reality, as well as an interesting proposal on the permanence of literature. Atkinson seems to have fun in making Viola an author (not too serious) who is almost as talented as Jodi Piccoult. She also makes her say that an author is taken seriously only when she has done a war novel, or regret that she did not ask her father about the war, it could have been useful for a novel (novelists are predators).

The book is likely to be of  interest for  readers of several generations, because she portrays characters of all ages.

My favorite book from Atkinson remains Emotionally Weird, maybe because of the very humorous description, that  the British master so well, of  university life. For those who have never read Atkinson, the detective series might be ideal, even for those who do not like detective stories (or perhaps especially for those who do not like detective stories), because Atkinson’s strength is to  present the detective stories as accidents that happen in the lives of individuals, rather than to present them from the point of view of a police investigation, as is often the case in other books


7 thoughts on “The books I have read (3): Kate Atkinson God in Ruins”

  1. I read this last winter and had mixed feelings myself, though mostly positive. The writing is so nice, evoking brilliant images for me. But I didn’t quite get Viola either (she seems to be the next gen of the crazy aunt who turned Ted into a children’s book character) and was not satisfied by the ending. Still, I would recommend it. Your review brought it back to mind for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That Viola was something, and the end, well, some loved it but I found it was a little late and unnecessary to make a statement about the permanence of literature (it would need another book, I think). Nonetheless, I enjoyed most of the book.


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