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Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate…
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Behind the Scenes at the Museum (original 1995; edition 1996)

by Kate Atkinson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,9241041,311 (3.95)367
Member:cbinstead
Title:Behind the Scenes at the Museum
Authors:Kate Atkinson
Info:Black Swan (1996), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:fiction

Work details

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (1995)

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    Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier (souci)
    souci: A not-romanticized look at the period
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    When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman (jayne_charles)
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    Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson (starfishian)
    starfishian: Atkinson has written books in a variety of genres, settings and topics. Human Croquet reminds me very much of Behind the Scenes; if you liked one, no doubt you will like the other.
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» See also 367 mentions

English (99)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  All (104)
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Behind the Scenes at the Museum - Atkinson
4 stars

Ruby Lennox begins narrating her own life from the moment of her conception in 1951. She’s an astute observer with a child’s perception of her sprawling dysfunctional family. Her narrative is punctuated with ironic foreshadowing of disasters to come. ‘Footnotes’ inserted into the story of her own life are tied to chapters detailing the lives of her most recent ancestors. As usual with Atkinson, the storytelling is not linear. It’s sporadic with mysterious gaps.The last page left me needing to go back to the beginning just to make sure I had all the pieces to the puzzle.

Although Ruby has only one life, I can see the roots of Atkinson’s Life After Life in this book. She doesn’t just describe the historical settings, her characters live there. Ruby’s grandmother and great uncles inhabit England in WW1. Her mother’s girlhood is marred by WW2. Ruby grows up in the post war mid-century. Losses and disruptions, limited choices; Ruby and her female ancestors all experience moments of crises when they feel, ‘I’m living the wrong life’. Emotionally distant mothers and strong sibling relationships are themes that Atkinson returns to more than once.

This could have been a depressing book. Ruby’s family is so dysfunctional. There’s so much loss, deception, and abuse. But, there’s also survival, growth, and a few solid relationships. Overall, there’s Atkinson’s humor, irony, sarcasm, and her wonderful imagery.

Here’s Ruby, speaking of her mother on the night of her conception, “ Given free choice from the catalogue offered by the empire of dreams on her first night as my mother, Bunty has chosen dustbins.”

And later describing her mother in a rage, she calls her ‘Our Lady of the Kitchen’ “who is pretending to dish out pork chops, mashed potatoes and carrots but is really shooting out steel tension wires from her fingertips…..Until the whole house is criss-crossed with the mental web of Bunty’s thoughts.”

In one hilarious chapter about the family vacation from hell, she skewers the hosts of the bed and breakfast. “They have no sense of humour whatsoever – even Bunty has a sense of humour compared with our hosts. They have united Prussian gloom and Presbyterian dourness in an awesome combination.”

It always takes some effort to read an Atkinson book. In this one it was difficult to keep track of Ruby’s relatives with all of its branching generations. Those generational footnotes that interrupt Ruby’s story are all tied to family artifacts, her great grandmother’s glass button, a locket, a rabbit’s foot, an artificial smile. I liked how the story was structured around these things. I’m spending much of my own time sorting through family artifacts from my mother’s house. I have happier past than Ruby Lennox, but all families have their secrets. I could identify with Ruby’s story. ( )
  msjudy | Feb 19, 2017 |
A marvelous book. ( )
  Lewter | Dec 3, 2016 |
A favorite. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
A compulsive read, which is rare. I enjoyed the narrative alternating between Ruby Lennox, who was a spectacular narrator (almost all the way) throughout, and the story of Ruby's family. Atkinson uses a technique where she flashes forward and sometimes backward as introduces characters into books that I've always enjoyed - perfect for a reader who hates foreshadowing. My only quibble was her wrapping everything up in the end and Ruby the adult wasn't as interesting a narrator as Ruby the child. On one hand it was nice to find out certain things, on the other hand I really didn't need to know. Still, one of my best reads of the year and I suspect it will keep that status. ( )
  mkunruh | Nov 13, 2016 |
Atkinson is a writer who keeps the reader in good hands. I liked the structure (Ruby's life unfolds with "footnotes" that cover her family's history), though it was sometimes confusing. A meditation about families, how everyone and everything is connected in ways we don't even think about. ( )
  jjaylynny | Nov 12, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kate Atkinsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Jameson, SusanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peterson, MarieForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Torndahl, LenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312150601, Paperback)

"I exist!" exclaims Ruby Lennox upon her conception in 1951, setting the tone for this humorous and poignant first novel in which Ruby at once celebrates and mercilessly skewers her middle-class English family. Peppered with tales of flawed family traits passed on from previous generations, Ruby's narrative examines the lives in her disjointed clan, which revolve around the family pet shop. But beneath the antics of her philandering father, her intensely irritable mother, her overly emotional sisters, and a gaggle of eccentric relatives are darker secrets--including an odd "feeling of something long forgotten"--that will haunt Ruby for the rest of her life. Kate Atkinson earned a Whitbread Prize in 1995 for this fine first effort.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:32 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In her profoundly moving, uniquely comic debut, Kate Atkinson introduces readers to the mind and world of Ruby Lennox, born above a pet shop in York at the halfway point of the twentieth century, and determined to understand both the family that precedes her and the life that awaits her. Taking her own conception as her starting point, the irrepressible Ruby narrates a story of four generations of women, from her great-grandmother's affair with a French photographer, to her mother's unfulfilled dreams of Hollywood glamour, to her young sister's efforts to upstage the Queen on Coronation Day. Hurtling in and out of both World Wars, economic downfalls, the onset of the permissive '60s, and up to the present day, Ruby paints a rich and vivid portrait of family heartbreak and happiness.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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