Nancy's Reviews > Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
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Jan 07, 2012

it was ok
Read in January, 2012

As has occurred in the past, I am starting a review without being entirely certain of what to rate it.

I have read the Jackson Brodie books and quite enjoy the author's story-telling and writing prowess. I decided to read some of her earlier books. Firstly, I can now see that the general air of melancholia and fate that (to my mind) seems to suffuse the Brodie books is a part of the author's style, at least based on my impression of this book.

The structure of the book certainly allows the author to tell seminal and, often, secret stories in a family history, without being constrained within a standard narrative, and without having to delve deeply into the characters in the tales. The use of one person, Ruby, as the narrator, creates a structure around which the footnotes tell the tales that Ruby could not know. The fact that most of the stories are unhappy and the majority of the characters themselves are unhappy, bitter, and emotionally stunted, and that the happier characters who have the ability to balance those traits die young and untimely deaths (more than a few unhappy people die as well, but pretty much all the happy ones).

The range of knowledge of Ruby as a foetus, an infant, a toddler and small child were a bit jarring and distracting at times but that eventually became less unbalanced as she got older. That her life was as affected by the stories and secrets surrounding her should come as no surprise. I found that the later portion of the book with Ruby's discovery and response to those secrets to be particularly well-done.

I suspect that if this had been the 1st book that I had read by this author I would be disinclined to read others. While the tone of the narrative is not maudlin, for all the tragedy that occurs the tone is rather dispassionate, I prefer not to spend my time reading about people who choose to cling to bitterness and resentment and poison their own lives and the lives of those around them. That the end of the book shows some people able to get beyond that does not quite balance the negativity.

If I could give 2.5 stars I would, as the writing was solid but the story was still too unhappy for me.

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