Best Book of the Week!
In my opinion, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life was absolutely the best book I read in 2013. It is the story of Ursula Todd, who dies and comes back to life until she accomplishes her goals. A God in Ruins is about her beloved brother Teddy. Atkinson describes it as a companion piece rather than a sequel.
Like Life After Life, Teddy’s story dwells on the effects on his life of World War II, during which Teddy is an RAF bomber pilot. Although the novel covers his entire life in a nonsequential, rambling order, clearly the events of the war are a major focus to which he keeps returning.
During the war he makes himself a promise that if he lives through it, he will always be kind. And he is, to his sisters, his matter-of-fact scientist wife, and his unlikable daughter Viola. When his daughter fails spectacularly at child-rearing, his home is a harbor for his two grandchildren.
Although Teddy does not have Ursula’s ability to shape her own future, during the war he flies so many missions without being killed that his comrades deem him invincible. And in later life his daughter comes to fear he will live forever.
I can’t explain why A God in Ruins is such a wonderful follow-up to Life After Life without giving too much away. Its focus is on the bombing campaign against Germany, and it explores the ethical issues of that campaign, which killed many German civilians. It also shows the waste of the young men sent to pursue it, sometimes in conditions almost guaranteeing they won’t return. And the terror of these young men.
Atkinson is deft in her depiction of believable characters and is also a beautiful, inventive writer. It’s quite possible that A God in Ruins may be my favorite book of 2015.