A God in Ruins
By: Kate Atkinson
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
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. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.
After finishing Life After Life (review), I jumped right into this novel (a “companion novel”, I learned afterwards). Teddy was my favourite character from the last book and after the different navigations that his life turned out there, I wondered how the author was going to go about with his story. Further incentive to finally read this book (and its predecessor): it was longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize in Fiction 🙂
Hmm, well, A God in Ruins was also an interesting read. Unlike Life After Life, Teddy’s story is much simpler, more linear as the reader follows his life from his experiences during World War Two as an RAF bomber pilot to his tumultuous life afterwards as a husband and father. Though linear isn’t quite the correct term here; the narrative does move fluidly back and forth, between memories and his experiences in the later 20th century, snapshots here and there, a memory remembered. On the one hand, the novel conveyed the different effects the war had on Teddy–fighting more or less in the frontlines–compared to Ursula’s work at home, but suffice to say the war changed them. On the other hand but related to the first point, gosh, I wished things worked out better for Teddy–like sunshines and rainbows, yo, because he’s such an earnest, well-meaning person–but such is life and not everyone’s like you. He’s lived through such changing times, but what struck me about Teddy throughout this book was how he was like a rock through all of these changes, developments; his estranged daughter complains how he’s so old-fashioned, but really, he’s just Teddy.
This book was interesting, not only in the cross of different characters that cross this book, but also in expanding a bit on characters we’ve already been introduced to in Life After Life. This book solidified some of the impressions I had about Sylvie and touched a bit as to why she was the way she was. We got Teddy’s side of his close relationship with his sister Ursula, who popped in here and there throughout the novel. We learned more about Nancy, who she is and why Teddy was so taken by her; I felt her characterisation seemed a bit all over the place (very practical but also very optimistic? My mind had a bit of a hard time trying to comprehend that duality). As for Teddy’s daughter and grandchildren…I admit, Viola was an interesting character to read as she pretty much bulldozed through everything and everyone and was a complete opposite from her father, but gosh was she so irritating! I honestly didn’t sympathise with her at all later on when she found herself wondering why her relationship with her children was the way it was. I felt bad however for Sunny; kid had his tantrums, but his backstory and upbringing lends some light as to why he was the way he was growing up. Teddy did what he could but he just seemed so out of his depth with how his daughter and grandchildren turned out, it was interesting and heartbreaking and awful to go through it.
In the end, this is a rather difficult book to rate, one of those times where rating is just insufficient to encapsulate my thoughts and feelings about this book. I was initially leaning towards a 3.5 like its predecessor, but what pushed it to a full 4 stars was the ending/last two-three chapters.
A God in Ruins was an interesting follow-up and companion read to Life After Life. We got to follow Teddy’s story, which is a bonus, which also takes us to big events in the second half of the twentieth century but like Life After Life, it does deal with a lot of different and heavy issues such as marriage, relationship, parenthood, memory, art, what is right and wrong. The generational gap is acutely felt here too and plays a major role when you see how Teddy-Viola-Bertie&Sunny’s relationships mesh and play out. It’s an interesting read and definitely drew me in from the start in a way that Life After Life had a slower build-up. Both were interesting novels on the whole though; I didn’t love LOVE them, but they certainly coaxed a lot of thoughts and feelings out of me 😛