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Behind the Scenes at the Museum

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  29,928 ratings  ·  2,486 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 USA (first published 1995)
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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)
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3.95  · 
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 ·  29,928 ratings  ·  2,486 reviews

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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
Sep 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: col, aa-patty
“At the moment at which I moved from nothingness into being my mother was pretending to be asleep - as she often does at such moments. My father, however, is made of stern stuff and he didn't let that put him off.”

And this, dear reader, is how we meet Ruby Lennox. During her life, she often announces herself by calling out “It’s just Ruby!”, but she’s often addressed as “ShutupRuby!” She tells her family’s story in the first person, and mixed with her earliest memories (admittedly a lot ear
Jul 05, 2007 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.
Megan Baxter
Mar 06, 2013 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
Dec 03, 2014 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 15, 2012 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
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
Connie G
May 14, 2016 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
Jan 08, 2009 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.
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of my all-time favourites
Apr 20, 2015 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
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
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, overdrive
The story of a family told from the point of view of Ruby, who begins her narration at her conception. There are a lot of characters and, as is typical for this author, her time hopping among multiple time periods makes the book needlessly complicated. I liked it best when it stuck to the Ruby story. It might be better in print than as an audiobook. 3.5 stars
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1990-2010, reviewed
This is an engaging, witty, slips-down-easy novel, aiming for greater depth and bite as it meanders towards its ending. In some ways, it reminded me of Anna Burns’s recent Milkman (the snarky, under-age narrator; the eccentric family; the surface cynicism muting into eventual edgy warmth)—although I felt Milkman had a lot more to say.

Behind the Scenes works on a number of chronological planes. The lead narrative is a coming-of-age piece, centered on the story of a girl born in York in 1952, Ruby
Lisa Vegan
May 13, 2007 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
May 30, 2008 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
Joey Woolfardis
Read as part of The Infinite Variety Reading Challenge, based on the BBC's Big Read Poll of 2003.

Simply not to my style or taste and only read as part of a reading challenge.

I did skim it, whilst either listening to Radio 2 or watching Allo Allo, and I don't think I missed anything. The thing that annoys me so much is that the title-Behind the Scenes at the Museum-is wonderful and evocative and imagination and makes me think of wonderful, fantastical, magical things and this book was none of th
This took me a bit longer to get hooked by than the previous Atkinson books I've read, but it was so worth it. It's a beautifully-constructed, multigenerational family saga (a type of book I don't usually like, but this one works). The writing is gorgeous, with wonderfully perceptive illustrations of family relationships and vivid, flawed, sometimes flailing, but often (eventually) endearing characters. Atkinson's humour brings this tragicomedy away from being bleak and into something that feels ...more
Jan 22, 2008 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
Will Ansbacher
Aug 08, 2015 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
Mar 21, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: british
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 this author.
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*
Roger Brunyate
Apr 30, 2016 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
Dec 01, 2007 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
Mar 01, 2016 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
Jan 04, 2014 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
May 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of historical fiction
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
Jul 11, 2008 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
Sep 20, 2013 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
Jun 13, 2013 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?
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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,
“In the end, it is my belief, words are the only things that can construct a world that makes sense.” 44 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.” 25 likes
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