Monica's Reviews > Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
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's review
Nov 03, 11

bookshelves: british, historical
Read in November, 2011

I loved this book the first time I read it years ago, and I love it more rereading it now. From the very first line "I exist!" the voice of Ruby Lennox is unforgettable. Her description of the moment of her conception during a (very) brief encounter between her sleeping mother and her inebriated father sets the tone for her clear-eyed, ironic and unsentimental, frequently hilarious descriptions of her life.

It is much more than the story of generations of unhappy mothers. There is Alice, Ruby's great-grandmother, who walked out on her her husband and children when Nell, the youngest, was an infant, leaving them to the mercies of the horrid stepmother Rachel. There is Nell, the grandmother who had two fiances die on her (appendicitis, War)before she finally settled for life with Frank because it got her out of the house and away from Rachel. Ruby's mother Bunty also settled - for George, housework and children that made her angry and a life Above The Shop. Not what she dreamed of.

It is also a meticulous and vivid description of the minutiae of the lives of families of shopkeepers and farmers in northern England during most of the 20th century. The scenes of the young men lost to war, or barely surviving it, are beautifully done, and very moving.

The story moves back and forth between the generations fluidly, and the history of York is almost a character in its own right. The Romans and the Vikings are distant neighbors; the Coronation of Elizabeth II and the death of Diana are events that happen to the family.

The language is rich and evocative; the characters are unforgettable, and some of them do escape to better lives - Lillian to Canada, Patricia to Australia, and Ruby, finally, to Scotland. I really love this book.
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