Friday, 28 August 2015

A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson

Reviewer: JJ Marsh(audiobook edition, read by Alex Jennings)

What we thought: Reading this book is like dropping pebbles in a pond and watching the ripples bounce off one another, creating new patterns until they fade to nothing.

Atkinson’s deft hand with storytelling is well-established in both crime and literary fiction. In Life After Life, she played with the conventions of narrative, so that each ending was a beginning. A God in Ruins she says, is not a sequel but a companion piece to Ursula Todd’s myriad experiences in Life After Life. Yet you can read (or listen to) this book with no knowledge of the former and relish it for itself.

Once again, it’s an unconventional approach. This is Teddy’s story, about himself and those in his circle of influence. Family, fellow fighters, children, grandchildren and brief encounters. It stretches from his youth to his death with the Second World War at its centre. Each character is firmly attached to his or her period in time: his parents to the 1920s, Teddy to the war, his daughter Viola who seems to epitomise the ‘You’ve Never Had It So Good’ era and her children’s experiences echoing recent history. The story leaps back and forth in time, leaving the readers a colourful and engaging series of jigsaw pieces to assemble into our own story.

This could make for frustrating reading, but via Atkinson’s sly humour, visceral immediacy and perfectly realised characters, it is not. It’s like growing up hearing family stories told over and over, first from one perspective and then another.

Because this is what the book is about. Telling stories, fiction, how we perceive ourselves, how we interpret our history and the ways we erect walls in which we believe. Hence the extraordinary end.

The novel is shockingly good and the audiobook is only enhanced by the performance skills of Alex Jennings, whose subtle nuances denote class, regional accents, mood and humour.

This is my book of the year so far.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Life After Life, Human Croquet, The Assault by Harry Mulisch

Avoid if you don’t like: Fractured narratives, WWII, meandering plots

Ideal accompaniments: Cheese and pickle sandwiches, Stone’s Ginger Wine and There’s Something in the Air by The Squadronaires

Available on Amazon

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