Review: A God in Ruins

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been out of the office: my PC has been neglected, but I’ve done some reading.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson is without a doubt the best book I’ve read in a long time, and it’s easy to see why it won last year’s Costa Book Award.  In fact, the judges called it, “Utterly magnificent and in a class of its own.  A genius book.”

The author has some pretty heavy-weight credentials.  Kate Atkinson won the Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year in 1995 with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum.  Her four bestselling novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie became the BBC television series.  Her last novel, Life After Life, was the winner of the 2013 Costa Novel Award.  She was appointed MBE in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours.


Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins is the story of Teddy Todd, a would-be poet, lover of the countryside, and heroic bomber pilot during World War II.  The story begins in 1925 and zig-zags back and forth in time until its conclusion in 2012.  As the number of his completed combat missions piles up, Teddy does not expect to see the ‘Afterwards’ in which he will become a husband and a father.  Throughout the story, he faces life as it is without complaints about lost opportunities, heartbreak, or feelings un-expressed.  He is surrounded by the characters of his own family and by some of the family who are neighbours.

The writing is captivating and tight; there is no excess baggage here even though the book runs to over 500 pages.  The characters are distinct, and the story line never lags.  What most impressed me about the novel was the authenticity of the descriptions of flying bombing missions in a Halifax, but then, at the end of the book is a three page bibliography of sources.  Ms Atkinson did a lot of research!  I understand why it too two years to write this novel.  There is an interesting device she used which turns fiction on its head.  Fascinating!  But I’m not going to give it away.  Sometimes I felt slightly put off by the broken chronology, but in reading the book over a period of days, I began to feel that it was building nicely to a conclusion.  This is a novel which fully engages both one’s emotions and one’s beliefs.

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