In Life After Life Ursula Todd lived through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. In A God in Ruins, Atkinson turns her focus on Ursula’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.
‘A God in Ruins’ is a companion novel to ‘Life After Life’. You don’t need to have read Life After Life to understand it (but you should, because it is amazing).
If you have read Life After Life you should know that A God in Ruins is very different. More ‘normal’. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact I really enjoyed it, but it’s barely comparable to Life After Life.
I’ve sat with just those few words for a few days, letting myself get distracted by Hearthstone, because I don’t know how to write this review without spoilers. You see the ending is really important, but I can’t describe why it’s important, or why it really ‘makes’ the story without saying what that ending is. See I want to say how it effects the novel as a whole, because that’s what made me love A God in Ruins, but I don’t think, if you already knew it your reading would be the same. I suppose all I can say is to make sure you read right to the end (the author’s notes are interesting too, but not essential).
The problems with books where the ending is what makes it is that the rest of the novel has to hold enough power by itself to make people want to read it.
The novel was split into three timelines, with chapters differing between those timelines (generally speaking). There was Teddy’s war, and a little of his time before the war. There was his life with his wife Nancy. And there was the life of his daughter Viola- this bit mainly told in her own voice.
A lot of the time the novel had a plot which wasn’t very exciting. Atkinson’s writing was still good enough not to make these sections ‘boring’ but they didn’t hold a great deal of pull. You read them, but you weren’t necessarily eagerly looking forward to reading them. They had an everyday simplicity which was beautiful in it’s own way, the images that Atkinson drew, but I wouldn’t have read a whole book of it.
What I really liked were the periods during Teddy’s war (while I do have a thing for war novels). I found those times most interesting and exciting. I really liked Teddy (well you’re meant to ‘everyone loved Teddy best’ -I paraphrase but that’s basically a quote from ‘Life After Life’). He seemed like a good leader of his little team. He also seemed like a good husband, and father.
That’s part of the reason I really didn’t like Viola. She seemed like Teddy’s opposite, despite being his daughter. She was so selfish, and self-absorbed. However when it came down to it she was an interesting character, after all the best characters to read about are not always the ones you love- Viola was definitely an example of that. Actually she had more depth than Teddy really.
Sorry, I can’t do this without spoilers. Highlight to see the spoiler. It’s interesting that Viola does have such depth as a character seeing as she was a figment of Teddy’s imagination. I suppose he was a better author than he thought! It is also interesting to think that Viola also had her own voice in the book, seeing as she never really existed. Part of me thinks that Viola was Teddy’s way of punishing himself. For not loving Nancy enough, for his own imagination making himself kill her, which is a cruel thing really. That is if you take it as being all Teddy’s imagination.
In her author notes Atkinson writes that she saw it as another of Ursula’s lives (sorry if you haven’t read Life After Life) , which means that actually it was ‘real’ in that universe. Oh I’m confusing myself now. I always thought of the one life in Life After Life being Ursula’s ‘last’ life, and this life fits with the Teddy dying in the war ‘life’. Oh it’s confusing! I suppose in a way you can say that both things happened. Is one life better than the other though? One is certainly better for Nancy…but the other while that leads to more. Either way it’s interesting to think of how a single event could be so pivotal and make things so much different. I suppose even any small event could end up that way, even if it doesn’t seem significant in the grand scheme of things, even if it’s not such a big event as someone dying or not. From what I feel about Teddy I actually think the life where he dies is more likely, I don’t think he would give up on a crew member, but maybe that’s just me.
I think this would make an interesting book club read. Maybe more so if you read Life After Life too. End of spoiler
People who didn’t like the more ‘unusual’ side of Life After Life may prefer A God in Ruins, I liked that element of it though which makes Life After Life at least more memorable for me.
Because the ending is so important I wanted to give this five stars at the end, but probably most of the way though I would have given it four, or four and a half. It seems somehow wrong to give it lower than five stars, but should I really give it five stars if it wasn’t like that all the ay through.
If you follow me on twitter you’ll see that there were points other than the ending which really got me. I wrote about how my own thoughts ended up having the same tone as the novel, which only happens when I really get into a book, I think maybe things go 5 stars there too.
I’m going to do something which I haven’t done for a long time. a variable, or sliding score
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