Monday, 22 May 2017

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

People recommend books to me a lot. It's hard to know when or how to fit them all in! And then there's the worry I won't like a book that is very dear to a dear friend's heart. For a long time, I just avoided reading books that had been recommended to me, unless someone pushed a physical copy into my hot little hands. (This is still the fastest way to get a book to the top of my list.) So I started a new list to read of books friends recommended. If you want to get in on this, you can recommend a book on this post.

This book was recommended to me by Lisa

I was reading this book in the kind of circumstances that, perhaps, did a disservice to the book itself. I was distracted and upset, and read in short bursts. I wish I'd had the time and the opportunity to sit down and let long sections of A God in Ruins seep through me. As it was, I did really enjoy it, but I also felt like I might have loved it had the circumstances been a bit different. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm looking forward to rereading it, and the first time was enough to definitely warrant a second read.

The second thing that comes to mind is to contrast this book to the ones we've been reading the last few months in my science fiction and fantasy bookclub, all of which have centered around books written by people with direct experience of war. It's been interesting to think about similarities and differences between these authors, and differences that exist between them and authors who write about war but haven't experienced it.

It's funny, though, because Kate Atkinson's book doesn't feel as far afield as do some of the other books we could think of that valorized war and gave a feeling of purpose or story to battle. Through the sections of the book where Teddy is flying his fighting missions in the air to Germany, whether he lives or dies seems very arbitrary. He is lucky, but little else.

So, what's the book about? I'm thinking about how much to say, because this is a book where the discovery is part of the journey. It's the story of Teddy's life, is a safe way to start. Both his life during the war, and his life after, when he settles down, marries, and eventually has a grown-up daughter who is remarkably selfish, and two grandchildren who love him. As we dance back and forth in time, we get to see why some of those things occur, but I have to say that even when we find out the root of Viola's issue with her father, she is still a character that I just want to throttle a good portion of the time. Although I think maybe that's the point.

It's a life lived quietly, after the war, with huge domestic disruptions, but largely unaffected by interactions with the politics of the greater world. There are ways in which it reminded me of Jo Walton's My Real Children, and I hope I'm not giving too much away by making that comparison. The characters all felt so real, even when they were (or particularly when they were) ones I wanted to strangle.

At the end of his life, is Teddy the god in ruins? You'll have to read and see, but the title itself led me down many paths while I was reading, comparing it to this idea and the other, but I really don't want to say much more. This book is much less overtly the sort of something else that the companion novel, Life After Life, was. And yet it's there, and when it became apparent I was moved, but not as moved as I was by the relationships Teddy had with others in his life.

I do want to go back to the book when I'm bringing a better me to the experience. Some day.

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