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Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate…

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

by Kate Atkinson

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3,455821,553 (3.96)282
Title:Behind the Scenes at the Museum
Authors:Kate Atkinson
Info:Black Swan (1996), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

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

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    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 282 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
God I love Kate Atkinson's writing. And her sense of humor. And her wry wit. And her sense of history. Oh let's face it, I love Kate Atkinson. And this polished novel was her debut novel?? Can that be right? Of course I read and loved [Life After Life] but that didn't prepare me for a debutnovel that exudes shades of Dickens and had me furiously turning pages well into the night.

The story is narrated by Ruby Lennox and who better to tell the story of her life as well as that of her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and sundry other relatives. Ruby’s family, much like yours, mine and everybody else’s, is littered with rogues, crooks, cheats and scoundrels. As Atkinson moves the narrative back and forth in time, across the twentieth century, she drops one tidbit after another that attest to her narrative wiliness. Ruby’s mother, Bunty, is such a rich, vibrant character (although not a contender for “Mother of the Year”) and Atkinson plays her for all she’s worth:

”I love the smell of paraffin heaters, so warm and dangerous. ‘Be careful,’ Bunty warns automatically. In another life Bunty was related to Joan of Arc, constantly alert to the possibilities of fire….Paraffin heaters are even more hazardous than stakes to riches, and they never occur in a sentence without a cautionary warning attached. None of us….could be within five feet of one of the Shop heaters without being in danger of conflagration. The coal fire in the living-room is treated similarly and kept guarded day and night (lit or unlit); matches are lethal, of course; the burners on the gas cooker are alive and trying to grab you as you pass by; cigarettes are struggling to drop and smolder----and as for spontaneous combustion! Well, it’s just waiting to happen.” Page 182

So that’s what this book is like: laugh out loud moments followed by a history lesson or two (the section about Ruby’s great uncles during WWI was some of the most poignant writing on that subject that I’ve ever read) with Atkinson setting a frantic pace throughout the narrative. Pure delight from beginning to end and very highly recommended. ( )
10 vote brenzi | May 2, 2014 |
It took me a long time to warm up to this story but I did eventually like it. A small quibble with the narration, which had pauses at places that didn't seem to be related to the content... ( )
  leslie.98 | Mar 23, 2014 |
After loving Life After Life, I decided to go back to Atkinson's backlist and read her debut novel.

With the story of Ruby Lennox, I immediately saw similarities to Ursula Todd and as a storyteller Atkinson has only improved. Of course, she had a pretty strong start with this one.

While there were a few things with this one that didn't seem to work, overall it's a wonderfully weaving story of several generations of Ruby's family -- Alice, her great grandmother, Nell, her grandmother, and Bunty, her mom -- and we see over and over how history manages to repeat itself despite all the different paths taken.

Spoiler: The one thing that threw me was that Ruby apparently had a twin, Pearl, but we don't know about it until MUCH LATER. Which doesn't make a lot of sense because Ruby starts narrating at the point of conception.... So that kind of distracted me from the story. I think the story could have survived without that piece, but it also didn't take away from my overall enjoyment of the novel.
( )
  melissarochelle | Jan 9, 2014 |
The book begins with the conception of Ruby Lennox, narrated by...Ruby Lennox. Each chapter is current and tells of a period of time, but the chapters are interspersed with "footnotes," chapters with historical family stories. It all comes together in the end, and it's a good story, but it was very difficult to keep the characters in order. I love Atkinson's Jackson Brodie stories. This is her first novel, and she hadn't quite worn of the rough edges, but the promise is there! ( )
  tloeffler | Nov 23, 2013 |
Superficially, Behind the Scenes at the Museum tells the story of Ruby Lennox from the time of her conception (shades of Tristram Shandy I think - not that I've ever read it), through her childhood in 1950's York ,and into adulthood. This is a chronological story, but interspersed with this, and taking up probably at least a third of the book, are the 'footnotes', which delve in a seemingly haphazard way into the past of Ruby's family, telling its story through poverty and world wars. At least, the book tells one version of the family's past, as events which are a matter of record are interspersed with events which may be true or may be fictional (as how can the narrator possibly know). But although the footnotes contain seemingly random reminiscences at first, the information given in the footnotes enables the reader to decipher some of the mysteries at the heart of this family, as although this isn't a mystery as such, this is certainly a family which has secrets.

Ruby's own story is a delight to read: surprisingly so for something that contains so many unhappy people. Her mother Bunty, had married her father George (a serial womaniser) as the best of a bad lot after the Second World War and had regretted it ever since, her first choice being an American soldier called Buck who had carelessly blown his foot off with a hand grenade and was shipped back to the States never to be heard of again. Irritation is Bunty's normal state of mind, which very little is able to penetrate, and this does not make for a happy family life in the flat above the pet shop where the family live. I loved the beginning of the book (this is not a universal reaction as I found out from my book club) and the way the author establishes the characters of Bunty and George so quickly, as here when the newly conceived Ruby eavesdrops on her unsuspecting mother's dream:

'Given free choice from the catalogue offered by the empire of dreams on her first night as my mother, Bunty has chosen dustbins.

In the dustbin dream, she's struggling to move two heavy dustbins around the Back Yard … She is growing wary of one dustbin in particular; she suspects it's beginning to develop a personality - a personality uncannily like that of George.

Suddenly, as she heaves hard at one of the bins, she loses control of it and it falls with a crash of galvanised metal - CCRASH KERLUNCK! - spewing its contents over the concrete surface of the yard. … Despite the mess, the dreaming Bunty experiences a flush of pleasure when she sees how tidy her rubbish looks. As she bends down and starts picking it all up she becomes aware of something moving behind her. Oh no! without even turning round she knows it’s the George dustbin, grown into a lumbering giant and now towering over her, about to suck her into its grimy metallic depths …

Somehow, I can't help feeling that this dream doesn't augur well for my future.'

As the footnotes continue to introduce more and more members of Ruby's family, the reader can feel overloaded at times. Many people at my book group wanted a family tree to be provided, and apparently there is one on line. But one review of the book that I have read points out that to have a family tree provided would immediately expose the secrets and lies that are at the heart of the book, and so would remove the pleasure of piecing together the clues. And it did remind me of the sort of family that I grew up in, where there were numerous vague and more distant relatives that couldn't quite be placed but belonged there somewhere.

Despite more deaths than can be recounted on the fingers of one hand, and a set of unhappy and unfulfilled characters there are some very funny scenes in the book that really evoke a sense of time and place. The coronation where Bunty is too busy making food for her guests to watch any of the coverage on their new TV (and resenting every minute of it) and the wedding from hell booked for the day of the World Cup final in 1966 are wonderful.

The one weakness of the book, in my opinion is its ending. It does peter out rather than come to any definite conclusion. But the journey to get there was so much fun that I can forgive it that! ( )
3 vote SandDune | Nov 6, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kate Atkinsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jameson, SusanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peterson, MarieForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Torndahl, LenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Eve and Helen
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I exist!
The past's what you take with you.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:19:41 -0400)

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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)

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