Monday, June 8, 2015

"A God in Ruins," by Kate Atkinson

I wrote here (6/1/15) about the “undemanding” novels I read on my very recent trip to Europe. They were perfect for my travels. But what a contrast, shock, and pleasure it was, one I experienced almost viscerally, to read, on my return, a truly masterful novel by a masterful writer, Kate Atkinson. (As an aside, I do wish the term “masterful” were not so male, but it seems appropriate here.) The novel, “A God in Ruins” (Little, Brown, 2015), is a companion novel to the wonderful “Life After Life” (see my post of 8/6/13). The focus of each is the lives of the members of the Todd family before, during (especially), and after World War II in England. In the earlier novel, Ursula Todd was the main character; in this one, her younger brother Teddy is the focus. As the author states in her afterword, she chose to write in the first novel about the London Blitz, and in the second one about the “strategic bombing campaign against Germany.” As Teddy is a military pilot during the war, there is in fact quite a bit about the latter, including some very up-close, detailed, harrowing descriptions, in “A God in Ruins.” Readers are not spared the horrors of war; we also see the bravery of many soldiers. The author captures the intensity of wartime for all involved, but also the dailyness, and the sense that people have only the present to be sure of. But the book is about much more as well, as it portrays the larger context of the “before” and the “after” of the war. As in the earlier novel, the chapters go back and forth in time, with the years listed at the beginning of each chapter. We follow Teddy’s, and his family members’, lives over about a hundred years. Teddy comes from a large, basically loving but sometimes contentious and overwhelming family; his future wife is the “girl next door.” We learn about his parents, his siblings, his wife, his child, his grandchildren, and his crew members on the fighter planes, along with many other characters. Family relationships are described with clear eyes; for example, some of the characters love their families but don’t want to spend much time with them. The author is a sharp observer, and some of the characters are portrayed in all their weaknesses; for example, some of the mothers are not very maternal, although loving in their own ways. Yet there is almost always understanding of, even kindness toward, all but the worst of the characters. The complex character of Teddy is especially beautifully delineated. The novel is, among other things, an exploration of the nature of love, loyalty, family, hopes, dreams, reality, and of what is truly worthwhile in life. The writing is crisp, and the author is in complete control of her material. And although Teddy doesn’t keep dying and coming back to life, as Ursula did in the earlier novel, the author has some surprises and twists, including a very significant one, for us in this novel as well. “A God in Ruins” absorbed me so much that for a couple of days I was caught up in this 450-page novel, neglecting other things I should have been doing (with the faint excuse of a mild cold I am trying to get over). When I finished, I felt dazed, as if re-entering my own real world with difficulty and reluctance. I am in awe of the writing in "A God in Ruins" and of the Atkinson’s creation of a world so alive, so compelling.
Site Meter