In Life After Life Ursula Todd lived through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. In A God in Ruins, Atkinson turns her focus on Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy – would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband and father – as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.
A God in Ruins is a book I’ve wanted to read for years – I bought it and it’s been sitting on my shelf, teasing me. I have sort of been saving it, but now I’ve finally read it, and what a great book it is – no surprises there as I loved Life after Life, although this book is very different in premise (despite focusing on Teddy, Ursula from Life After Life‘s brother). There is no focus on a life – Ursuala’s – that could be lived again differently (or not in such a literal sense, anyway) but instead on Teddy’s one life.
The story is set partly during the second world war, and jumps backwards and forwards in time from chapter to chapter. It’s a family saga spanning many generations, and this constant shift in time could get confusing or annoying to some, but I personally love narratives that do this and Kate Atkinson (of course) implements this shift in timescale wonderfully, giving us glimpses into the future (and a few hints of what may or may not therefore happen). I always find novels set during WW2 incredibly moving (though I don’t tend to pick them up that often) and A God in Ruins is no exception. The emotion of Teddy’s time during the war and afterwards, and how this affected him and his family, is so powerful and really affected me too. Following Teddy’s life from boy to old man means you can’t help but feel personally invested in Teddy’s life- and for me, also the young men (boys, really) that he fought alongside in the war.
This is a fairly slow novel at times, but it’s just right – to try to convey the conflicting feelings – desperation, misery, fear, wonder, shock, pride, selflessness – that this war provoked. Although my review is making A God in Ruins sound like a wartime novel, it’s of course not about that, it’s about so much more – and is filled with characters I didn’t want to let go of at the end.