I want to start this review by saying that Life After Life also by Kate Atkinson is probably my favorite book of the last two years and may even be in my personal Top 5 of all time. It’s an epic tale of one woman, Ursula Todd, who is born over and over again into the same life until she gets it right. I think that if you enjoy reading, it is almost impossible not to wish that you personally had written certain novels and for me, Life After Life, would be one of those books. An absolute delight from beginning to end.
Until that novel, I had always struggled with Kate Atkinson in much the same way that I struggle with Sarah Waters. These women are both great writers, but their work simply isn’t for me. Over the years I have read, or rather kept persevering with quite a few of Atkinson’s novels, which indicates in itself that, on some level, I am happy to persevere, most notably Behind the Scenes at the Museum and Case Histories. I enjoyed these books enough to read them, but perhaps not to recommend them off the top of my head. Then I read Life After Life and I was transformed into one of her biggest fans. As you can see, I am ill equipped to offer sufficient praise for that particular novel.
The Daughter, when looking for a birthday present for me, asked what book I would like and immediately I knew that I wanted the sequel to Life After Life, A God in Ruins. I knew from the upstart that it didn’t follow the reincarnation premise that I had previously enjoyed so very much, but it did follow the life of Edward, or rather Teddy, Todd, brother of Ursula. It would allow me a second chance to dip into the world of the Todd family and life at Fox Corner, to envisage the enigmatic Sylvie and even to catch up with Ursula herself.
A God in Ruins, is a much more traditional read that it’s predecessor. Atkinson is often praised for how her plots develop and unravel around the reader and how her characters unfold piece by piece. This is all true and indeed this book is no exception, the problem for me was that unlike Life After Life, I could put this novel down far too easily. I found it slow and in places even plodding, until the very end. Years ago I read, on the recommendation of a friend, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. As with this novel, I waded through it waiting and waiting for the very end, which she had told me pulled all the threads together. In this novel, at the very end and without giving too much away, Atkinson pulls all the threads apart and that, well that was the part that I loved!
Teddy is positioned by the characters in the book, as the most loveable of the Todds. His Aunt has written a series of children’s books around his life, which the family views with disdain and which he himself dislikes. Like so many, Teddy is a man who struggles to find his passions, whether it be personal or professional. He has what could be described as a ‘good war’ but more by chance than design. He marries his childhood sweetheart Nancy and struggles with both what seems familiar and mundane. Their marriage yields one child, Viola, perhaps the most unlovable character in the book, who in turn has two children of her own.
Time is fluid in this novel, as it moves back and forth throughout Teddy’s life, pulling all the pieces of the different relationships together until at the end you think to yourself, that you really knew the main protagonist. I always enjoy novels that look at a character’s life in the whole, but if I had to choose which Atkinson novel to read again, it definitely wouldn’t be this one. For me, I think she has already written her greatest novel, although I have no doubt that I will buy more, ever hoping…..