Julie Christine's Reviews > A God in Ruins

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1213607
“The whole edifice of civilization turned out to be constructed from an unstable mix of quicksand and imagination.”
― Kate Atkinson, A God in Ruins

"It's still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by"
-Frank Sinatra, As Time Goes By

In the 2013 déjà-vu epic Life After Life Kate Atkinson played out "what if?" in a loop-de-loop plot that tossed narrative structure to the wind. It is a brilliant, confounding, playful and poignant novel. A God In Ruins returns us to Fox Corner and the Todd family of Life After Life, but aware that clever conceit is best eaten while warm, Atkinson returns to a more conventional structure for this "companion" novel. Sort of.

A God In Ruins plucks Teddy Todd from Ursula Todd's war and follows his life, from RAF bomber during WWII to his final days in a nursing home in the 21st century. The trajectory is not chronological—the narrative leaps back and forth between the skies over Hamburg to Teddy's prosaic, duty-bound post-war life, foreshadowing and reflecting back on itself—but unlike Life After Life, Teddy lives but one life (I feel it necessary to say that although A God In Ruins is a standalone novel, you'd be doing yourself a terrible disservice by not reading Life After Life first. Not only is it a phenomenal read, but you will enter A God In Ruins already knowing and loving these characters and appreciating the winks and nods blithely scattered in the text).

While still presenting the artifice of fiction—in the Author's Note, Atkinson states that fiction is essentially "how we must imagine what we cannot know"—A God In Ruins is about young men and war. It is an homage to the many who do not survive and the story of how it leaves in ruins those young gods who do. The novel is built on Teddy's flashes of memory and in this way, it carries forward the sense of déjà-vu that made Life After Life such a tour de force. But Ruins is quieter, except for the breathless scenes of bomber raids that Teddy leads. The reader never knows who will return alive (90 percent of the young men who joined the WWII Bomber Command did not) and the drama is rendered in extraordinary, fever-pitch detail.

Contrasting Teddy's Greatest Generation heroics is the ridiculousness of his daughter, Viola, who Atkinson writes in caricature, almost unfairly at times. It's impossible not to laugh or smirk at Viola's irrelevant, hapless life, except when you are bemoaning her tragic neglect of her children, son Sunny and daughter Bertie (and Atkinson indulges in some terrific metafiction moments, offered like sticky Turkish Delight—Viola shuffles from indulgent hippy to pampered bestselling writer, her chipped shoulder leading the way). In a quieter display of domestic heroics, Teddy steps in as dutiful, if not overtly tender, grandfather. There is a thick scar of tension running between Viola and her father, slowly revealed as the courtship and marriage of Teddy and Viola's mother, Nancy, unfolds.

I still come cross readers who have never heard of Atkinson (whaaaaa???) or dismiss her because of the supposed-genre Jackson Brodie series. I can press her books into the hand of the innocently ignorant; the willfully ignorant don't merit the breath. Kate Atkinson is one of the finest, most versatile, humane and intelligent storytellers of our generation. Dismiss her at your own peril and loss.

If Life After Life is about beginning and beginning again, A God In Ruins is about our inevitable end. And speaking of endings, well, no, I won't. I can't. Just don't mind me for sinking to the floor, clutching at the pieces of my broken heart.

53 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read A God in Ruins.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

February 1, 2015 – Shelved
February 1, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
August 19, 2015 – Started Reading
August 20, 2015 –
page 107
22.86% "Soothed by Atkinson's ever-lovely prose."
August 21, 2015 –
page 149
31.84% ""Here lies one whose name was writ in water." John Keats"
August 23, 2015 –
page 209
44.66% "Just when Viola's bitterness is beginning to wear me out, she does something laugh-out-loud hilarious. This is why I love Atkinson- she never takes you for granted."
August 25, 2015 – Shelved as: british-isles-theme-setting
August 25, 2015 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
August 25, 2015 – Shelved as: read-2015
August 25, 2015 – Shelved as: war-conflict
August 25, 2015 – Shelved as: contemporary-fiction
August 25, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-17 of 17 (17 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Esil (new) - added it

Esil Great review Julie. I loved Life after Life and keep meaning to get to A God in Ruins. I also love that Atkinson did not feel obliged to use the same narrative concept in this one


Julie Christine Esil wrote: "Great review Julie. I loved Life after Life and keep meaning to get to A God in Ruins. I also love that Atkinson did not feel obliged to use the same narrative concept in this one" Thank you, Esil. This didn't hold the magic for me that Life After Life did, but it's original and tender. It's Kate!


Lisa After I read Life after Life, I started to work through all of Atkinson's works because her writing is like chocolate, thanks for the nice review!


Julie Christine Lisa wrote: "After I read Life after Life, I started to work through all of Atkinson's works because her writing is like chocolate, thanks for the nice review!" Thanks, Lisa! How I envy you, reading Atkinson for the first time. Yes,her writing is the best kind of chocolate!! Dark, rich, satisfying :)


message 5: by Debbie (new) - added it

Debbie Beauteous review, as always, Julie. Makes me want to move it up in my queue. I've only read one of hers, and it was long ago (Behind the Scenes at the Museum). I loved it but remember nothing. I'm worried that my aging brain is now too dumb to comprehend her wonderfully complex sentences. I'll give it a try and hope it doesn't make my head hurt.


message 6: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue Lovely review. Like you, I loved Life After Life and I'm looking forward to reading this book. I have more of Atkinson lined up too. And for me, Brodie transcends much of the genre books out there.


Julie Christine Debbie wrote: "Beauteous review, as always, Julie. Makes me want to move it up in my queue. I've only read one of hers, and it was long ago (Behind the Scenes at the Museum). I loved it but remember ..." Oh no. I won't let you get away with that, my dear! Atkinson is so generous and accessible. Keep going! xoxo


Julie Christine Sue wrote: "Lovely review. Like you, I loved Life After Life and I'm looking forward to reading this book. I have more of Atkinson lined up too. And for me, Brodie transcends much of the genre books out there." Completely agree, Sue. And thank you!


message 9: by Margitte (new)

Margitte Great review, Julie. Not a book I might be able to do, but interesting nevertheless.


Julie Christine Margitte wrote: "Great review, Julie. Not a book I might be able to do, but interesting nevertheless." Thank you, Margitte. Have you read any of Atkinson's work?


message 11: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Ansbacher I loved your final paragraph. The final chapter did the same for me


Julie Christine Will wrote: "I loved your final paragraph. The final chapter did the same for me"
Thank you, Will. Wasn't it a heart-opener? Wow.


message 13: by Mona (new) - added it

Mona Julie...I'm about to read this. I'll read your review after I finish the book.


Julie Christine Mona wrote: "Julie...I'm about to read this. I'll read your review after I finish the book."
Can't wait for your thoughts, Mona!


Julie Christine Sabah wrote: "Such a beautiful review, Julie. I'm going to add this and Life after Life as your last sentence after what came before just nailed it for me! Thank you : )" Thank you so much, Sabah. Kate Atkinson is one of my favorite writers of all time. She can do so much-sublime writing plus fantastic storytelling. My writer-hero!


message 16: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Do I have to read Life After Life first? I love Atkinson's other work, but the repetition in LAL wearied me. Bookmark fell out when
I was a third of the way into it and I couldn't stir myself to figure out into which of the various snow storms it should be reinserted.


message 17: by Julie Christine (last edited Apr 06, 2016 01:03PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Julie Christine Deborah wrote: "Do I have to read Life After Life first? I love Atkinson's other work, but the repetition in LAL wearied me. Bookmark fell out when
I was a third of the way into it and I couldn't stir myself to f..."


"Have to"? I would ever tell anyone they have to read anything. :)

I'm sorry that Life After Life wasn't your cup of tea. I understand, even though I adored it. It is hard for me to imagine connecting with A God in Ruins without have the context Life After Life provides.

Read what you love, is the only advice I can offer.


back to top