Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Behind the Scenes at the Museum” as Want to Read:
Behind the Scenes at the Museum
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  22,407 Ratings  ·  1,924 Reviews
Ruby Lennox begins narrating her life at the moment of conception, and from there takes us on a whirlwind tour of the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of an English girl determined to learn about her family and its secrets.
Paperback, 336 pages
Published November 12th 1999 by Picador (first published 1995)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Behind the Scenes at the Museum, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

Elaine I felt one had to keep a listing of endless characters in mind with no characteristics or emotions that are unique to any of them. It was shallow,…moreI felt one had to keep a listing of endless characters in mind with no characteristics or emotions that are unique to any of them. It was shallow, quotidian, and annoying.(less)
Mary Frances
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Violet wells
"As a family, we are genetically disposed towards having accidents."

First and foremost, this is a challenging ambitious book, more so than Life after Life. The narrative is a labyrinth of twists and turns, false trails, loops and double helixes. There’s also an awful lot to remember because for some time it isn’t obvious which details or even characters are paramount and which stuffing. It covers four generations of a family – from WW1 almost to the present day.

On the surface it’s a tragi-come
Jul 05, 2007 David rated it did not like it
God, I can't even begin to express my depth of loathing for this book. I forced myself through to within about 60 pages of the end, but then I just couldn't bear it any more. I just didn't want to know any more about the vile people in this ridiculous family with all their dark, dirty, entirely predictable secrets.

Gaaaah! I left it behind on a plane somewhere. Should have attached a toxic warning label.
Dec 09, 2014 Elaine rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this read but am finding it very hard to review without it making me sound like a rambling old biddy. There are so many things I liked about that are running through my head like little soundbites, but I can’t seem to write anything coherent about it. But I will try.

Ruby Lennox is narrating the story of her life, from the moment of her conception, through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. Her narration is at times funny, at others sad and moving, but she has a very wry
Jun 25, 2012 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

My only experience of Kate Atkinson's writing until now has been three of the four novels in her Jackson Brodie series, which starts with Case Histories. Quirky is the obvious adjective to describe Atkinson's writing. It has lots of dry humour and sardonic wit, intricate plotting and random connections and coincidences deliberately used to advance the narrative. There's a certain flippancy in the tone which brings into sharp relief the often very serious themes with which Atkinson deals.

This is
Jul 18, 2016 Connie rated it really liked it
Kate Atkinson has written a multigenerational story about a dysfunctional family. It starts with the conception of the narrator, Ruby Lennox, in York in 1952. Her mother is irritable and unhappy, her father is a philanderer, and her sisters are not very likable. Chapters with Ruby's story moving forward alternate with flashback chapters filling us in on the family history, going back to Ruby's great-grandmother. It's a family tale of loss, lack of fulfillment, and unhappiness. However, Atkinson' ...more
Kate Atkinson’s first novel won the Whitbread Book of the Year in 1995, beating such heavyweights as Salman Rushdie and his The Moor's Last Sigh. Behind the Scenes at the Museum us ab ambitious book: a sprawling saga which spans decades of events and covers several generations of characters.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum opens with the birth of its all-seeing narrator, Ruby Lennox, who begins her narration literally from conception (the first chapter begins with Ruby proclaiming "I exist! at th
Sep 14, 2011 JSou rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Is this really the same Kate Atkinson that wrote the so-so mystery novel, Case Histories?? What happened there? This was fan-freaking-tastic. Crazy family secrets, history, motherhood, war...I loved it.
This book and I had a love/hate relationship . On one hand, I found the writing to be so beautiful and I was very entertained by Ruby’s story. The thing that sent this book into 3 star territory was the footnotes. The footnotes were half the book and contained side stories of other people in Ruby’s family, mostly her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. While they could be entertaining, many of them could have used with harsh editing and a few didn’t need to be there at all. I was always w ...more
Apr 24, 2015 Tania rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Probably more like 2.5 stars. I absolutely adored Life After Life, so I was very much looking forward to reading on of her previous titles, but although I enjoyed her play on time in this book (referring to events in the future as well as the past while in the present) as well as her beautiful writing, there were way too many characters in the story, and because of this I didn't connect with any of them. I also thought the book could have been shorter. Maybe my expectations were just too high af ...more
Jan 22, 2008 Siria rated it it was amazing
This is a first novel, and it does show in a couple of places--the early chapters struggle to maintain the plausibility of such an adult authorial voice being refracted through the experience and understanding of a child, and there's at least one plot twist towards the end of the novel which I thought it could well have done without. Despite that, I really loved this book: the humour of it is just right for me, balanced right on the edge of tragedy. The prose achieves moments of real loveliness, ...more
Dec 13, 2015 Will rated it really liked it
Shelves: dysfunction
This was her first book? Wow, Ian McEwan should have done so well!

BtS@tM is a tale about Ruby, born in 1952, and her family, in particular her dysfunctional relationship with her mother Bunty; and brilliantly told it is too, beginning with Ruby’s own conception: “I exist!”
Atkinson has a sharp and sardonic wit when it comes to family dysfunction and the novel opens with an air thick with disappointment, as Ruby relates the dire trap that Bunty’s loveless marriage has become: because Atkinson pe
Lisa Vegan
May 13, 2007 Lisa Vegan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: if you have a warped sense of humor and enjoy novels about families
I enjoyed this book much more than most of the members of my book club. I loved Ruby, the narrator, especially as a child, and I thought that the intricate story was very clever and hilarious. The funniest parts were when Ruby was scathingly commenting about her family members, especially her sisters and parents. Terribly traumatic events happen to this family but they’re told in such a light and breezy manner (by Ruby during and before her actual lifetime) that I didn’t find the book at all dep ...more
Dec 04, 2013 Trish rated it liked it
This is very reminiscent of "Stone Diaries," but it has its own unique flavor. And stylistically it establishes the technique of intertwined stories that Atkinson's later novel, Case Histories, will also employ.

Ruby Lennox narrates her own life from the moment of her conception. She is a remarkably perceptive and knowledgeable zygote, and then she's a rather neglected little girl, and finally she's an unhappy teen-ager and a woman embarking on The Rest of Her Life.

Each chapter describing Ruby's
Sep 02, 2016 Mo rated it liked it
This is a multi-generational story (4 of them), with numerous characters and frequent time shifts. Good luck keeping everything - and everyone - straight.

I am left with one burning question...
(view spoiler)

Did the author throw a bunch of things against the wall and this was one of the several things that stuck?
I found this book while passing through England and I thought it would be a good read. I am so glad I discovered it. The story weaves its way backward and forward through time, tracing the path of several people's lives - their loves, their deaths, their experiences. I love that it primarily tracks the women of one family and it's fascinating to see the way in which their lives intertwine.

It takes place primarily in England in the early 1950s and 1960s, but the story reaches from the late 1890s
Dec 09, 2011 Claude rated it did not like it
This is one of those books i just can't get thru. The first 100 pages had so many characters, brothers, sisters, uncles, and aunts, etc...Too many names and characters to keep track of.
The second part of the book is way more interesting and funny when the character Ruby comes into play. The family is very corky and very colorful. However, i find myself never wanting to continue to read and finish this book. I also can't wait to get to read Soldier of A Great War or Middlesex.
I realize that eve
Apr 01, 2016 Elaine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, owned
I can't really review this book the way I would like to without having to add spoilers. I'm not really sure how much I liked this book. It was slightly depressing. Having enjoyed Atkinson's other books quite a bit I'm glad that I didn't start with this one. Although the writing is excellent and it does draw you in, I was just not completely immersed in the story. I also struggled a bit to keep up with all the characters and family connections as the storyline kept going back and forth from the p ...more
Jul 19, 2016 Lynn rated it it was amazing
Wonderfully odd way of telling 100 years in a British family's history.

The story opens in 1950 at the conception of Ruby Lennox and flashes back via lengthy footnotes to explain the significance of the family relics as she encounters them in her life. Often the family history footnotes are longer than the activity in the present. There are family secrets and York history during both World Wars. I love that the parents in every generation were dreadful and unsympathetic. Bad mothers most often b
Jan 04, 2014 Ms.pegasus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who loves well-written fiction
Shelves: fiction
The year is 1951 and Atkinson gives us Ruby, our unconventional, imaginative narrator who greets us with the exuberant opening revelation: “I exist!” At this moment, our narrator has just been conceived, deep within her mother Bunty's womb. The environs provide sustenance but little else. Instead, Ruby treats us to a ring-side seat to the endless rounds of discontent played out between Bunty and her husband George. An unassuming observer, Ruby gives us the benefit of her droll commentary, able t ...more
Jan 12, 2008 Rick rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Atkinson’s first novel is a multi-generational family tale layered on to the story from conception to adulthood of one Ruby Lennox. Atkinson has since written another four novels, the last two at least of which are mystery-thrillers, though this one is decidedly not. More a domestic melodrama with some late, though well-seeded plot twists. The crimes here are all of the hearth and heart, not of the prosecutorial sort, but considerable nonetheless. Some parts of this book are incredibly well-writ ...more
Mar 28, 2009 Liz rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. I have read other books by this author, and have enjoyed them, too. This one is my favorite of hers, as well as being her first novel. The narrator is telling the story of growing up in a pretty dysfunctional family, and gives hints along the way about a surprise the reader finds at the end of the book. There is a lot of unhappiness in this story, as seen from the point of view of the narrator (through most of the book she is a very young girl), and it would be interest ...more
Jul 14, 2008 Cecily rated it it was ok
Chapters and "footnotes" alternate between two eras of a Yorkshire family saga. Many dark secrets and inter-related people, significant objects and events. Sometimes a little confusing, especially some of the men in the WW1 era. Also some of the WW1 background (rationing, fear of bombs) doesn't ring true, but that could be my ignorance. Narrated by one of the youngest memebers of the family, who, even allowing for hindsight, is ludicrously knowing and analytical about events in her early childho ...more
Dec 04, 2014 Lisa rated it did not like it
This book was beyond tedious. An excellent example of why our English teachers were always badgering us over run-on sentences. I never saw so many commas in my life. The narrative was endless. Endless details of the mundane and uninteresting. And it was written in a way that told me the author was reaching to write in a unique style, and that always bugs me. I will definitely be avoiding all other work by KA, as well as anything else by this author.
Roger Brunyate
Jun 14, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it it was amazing
Shelves: comedy-sorta
Brilliant Brit

I enjoyed this wonderful book immensely, and would recommend it enthusiastically to all my British family and friends—except that all my British friends have already read it! My only hesitation in an American context is that people who have not grown up in postwar Britain as Kate Atkinson (and I) did might not get her dense texture of forgotten brand-names and vanished social customs. In this, she is pitch-perfect, recalling not only the lost era of her own childhood but also the E
Jun 23, 2013 Micaela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
"Albert didn't really believe in death. The dead had just gone away somewhere and were going to come back sooner or later-they were waiting in a shadowy room that no one could see the door to, and being ministered to by his mother, who was almost certainly na angel by now."(pag.62)

"Sometimes I would like to cry. I close my eyes. Why weren't we designed so that we can close our ears as well? ( Perhaps because we would never open them." ( pag. 320)

"I have been to the world's end and back and now I
Mar 04, 2008 Juliana rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anglophiles, war buffs, sisters.
I loved this book so much that I slowed down in the middle for fear of finishing it. That was probably a mistake because there are a ton of characters to keep track of and random things are always happening to them, and I'm sure there were a few witty twists that I missed. By the time I finished, I just wanted to start over again.
Even though the story follows a tragic family, Kate Atkinson keeps her sense of humor and I caught myself laughing out loud during death scenes and mourning periods. At
Erin Malone
Apr 03, 2013 Erin Malone rated it really liked it
This is Atkinson's first novel, and I loved it for its complicated, funny coming-of-age story. The narrator's voice is right on, and led me through all the twists of the book.

Thanks to a memory lapse, I picked up this book again and though I recognized I'd already read it, I liked it just as much the second time. I think that's the mark of a very good book. --3/31/13
Sandy *The world could end while I was reading and I would never notice*
Ruby Lennox begins narrating her life at the moment of conception, and from there takes us on a whirlwind tour of the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of an English girl determined to learn about her family and its secrets.

This was one of the most intriguing books I have ever read....I love Kate Atkinson, but this is 6*

This was an all right read, but I felt so cheated by the ending that nothing else in the book could make up for it. And sadly, it's put me off Kate Atkinson forever (most likely).
Megan Baxter
May 19, 2014 Megan Baxter rated it really liked it
Behind the Scenes at the Museum is really a very good book, marred by one gimmick that frustrates me because it's so unnecessary to the story Kate Atkinson is telling.

For the most part, however, I enjoyed this one immensely. Atkinson has a knack for turns of phrase that are amusing and piercing and unexpected, and I loved these in particular. The story is meandering, and weaves back and forth in time, but it was the sort of meander I greatly enjoy.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdra
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Around the Year i...: Behind the Scenes at the Museum, by Kate Atkinson 9 47 Oct 08, 2016 06:54AM  
curious about this book 21 161 Sep 02, 2014 12:40PM  
  • Sunset Song (A Scots Quair, #1)
  • Daughters of the House
  • The L-Shaped Room (Jane Graham, #1)
  • Eve Green
  • Theory of War
  • The Road Home
  • The Tortoise and the Hare
  • Swing Hammer Swing!
  • The Eye in the Door (Regeneration, #2)
  • Confusion
  • The Millstone
  • Day
  • Headlong
  • The Man in the Wooden Hat (Old Filth, #2)
  • Still Life
  • A Spell of Winter
  • Notes from an Exhibition
  • Any Human Heart
Kate Atkinson was born in York and now lives in Edinburgh. Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and she has been a critically acclaimed international bestselling author ever since.

She is the author of a collection of short stories, Not the End of the World, and of the critically acclaimed novels Human Croquet, Emotionally Weird, Case Histories,
More about Kate Atkinson...

Share This Book

“In the end, it is my belief, words are the only things that can construct a world that makes sense.” 41 likes
“I have been to the world's end and back and now I know what I would put in my bottom drawer. I would put my sisters.” 22 likes
More quotes…