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A God in Ruins (2015)

by Kate Atkinson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Todd Family (2)

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2,6751454,637 (4.05)279
Kate Atkinson's dazzling Life after Life explored the possibility of infinite chances and the power of choices, following Ursula Todd as she lived through the turbulent events of the last century over and over again. A God in Ruins tells the dramatic story of the twentieth century through Ursula's beloved younger brother Teddy--would-be poet, heroic pilot, husband, father, and grandfather--as he navigates the perils and progress of a rapidly changing world. After all that Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is living in a future he never expected to have.… (more)
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English (140)  Dutch (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (142)
Showing 1-5 of 140 (next | show all)
In this novel, Kate Atkinson brings back one of the major characters from her earlier, excellent Life After Life. In that book, the protagonist, Ursula Todd, repeatedly returns to life. After every death, the snow that fell the night of her birth begins falling again, and she gets another go at it. She’s never consciously aware that this is happening to her but has a persistent feeling of deja-vu. In addition, she acts on compulsions that hinder some tragedy from a previous go around.
One tragedy she’s unable to forestall is the death of her bomber pilot brother, Ted. He’s her favorite sibling, as well as being the only child their mother loves. In A God in Ruins, we read an alternate ending to Ted’s story. Rather than die in his 70th sortie, he survives the crash of his bomber and spends the final year of World War Two in a POW camp, unbeknownst to his loved ones.
In this version, Ted returns, marries his childhood sweetheart, they have a child, and settle into what his wife describes as “plodding.” Happy-end? Well, decide for yourself when you read it. I was sorry to see Ted, who was everyone’s golden boy before the war, spend most of his post-war life experiencing something else.
It’s tough to put a rating on this. Kate Atkinson is one of my favorite writers, and this book, like her others, is excellent. She shifts back and forth in time, but not in a gimmicky way. Instead, it’s an effective way to have Ted’s story, and that of other major characters, unfold. But nearly every time I put the book down, I said, “poor Ted.”
Atkinson writes in the Afterword that war is humanity’s ultimate fall from grace. This book exemplifies this eloquently. And I love the title, which Atkinson borrows from Ralph Waldo Emerson (the quotation appears as an epigraph to the book), and which ties in nicely with a payoff scene near the end of the book. All in all, despite my mixed feelings, I feel this was a very good read. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Oct 25, 2022 |
Kate Atkinson’s companion piece to Life After Life follows the life of Teddy Todd, Ursula’s younger brother with whom all readers of the previous novel had already fallen in love, and his experiences in World War II. Teddy is one of the kindest individuals in modern literature, but not a perfect man and not a stick figure. He is a thoughtful person, often pondering what life means, what people mean, and it is easy to recognize in him the questions we all have about life.

He noticed that Ursula's ox-eye daisies, wrapped in damp newspaper, were drooping, almost dead. Nothing could be kept, he thought, everything ran through one's fingers like sand or water. Or time. Perhaps nothing should be kept.

He loves his life at Fox Corners, his sister, his childhood sweetheart, the men who fly with him on his dangerous missions into Germany, and he deplores the loss of life on the ground that he recognizes as not always being those who might most deserve the punishment being inflicted. He is unsure about whether the line has been drawn in the right place, as I think most of us are when it comes to unavoidable wars.

There is also a thread that runs through this book that deals with aging and with multi-generational family and the importance of the love and understanding that comes from those who are so closely aligned genetically.

He was a baby once, she thought. New and perfect, cradled in his mother’s arms. The mysterious Sylvie. Now he was a feathery husk, ready to blow away. His eyes were half open, milky, like an old dog, and his mouth had grown beaky with the extremity of age, opening and closing, a fish out of water.

Can youth ever truly understand old age? I wonder if even the old do. I sometimes feel myself as if there is a young person inside me who is always a little shocked to look in the mirror and see the tedious and slow specimen I have become.

Kate Atkinson is a terrific writer. I fell in love with Behind the Scenes at the Museum, her first novel, and I believe she has not lost a step between that book and this one. Among the things I love best are her subtle allusions to great literature, and the additional meaning she draws from them in picturing a good man’s life:

On that best portion of a good man’s life, his little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love.

Wordsworth would be proud.

( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Another terrific story from Kate Atkinson. Billed as a companion book, not a sequel, to her magnificent novel, Life after life.
This novel depicts the life of Teddy, an English bomber in WW2, and his family. Atkinson details her characters so vividly that it is easy to become engrossed in their lives. There are many poignant moments in this book- the sort where you need to stop reading, think and then re-read the description again to marvel at her skill as a writer. Highly recommend this one. ( )
  Mercef | Mar 23, 2022 |
I'm going to be reading this and Life After Life again. ( )
  NancyinA2 | Feb 3, 2022 |
I didn't love this book until the very end, and then I loved it more than I can probably express. ( )
  readingjag | Nov 29, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 140 (next | show all)
Kate Atkinson writes a brilliant follow-up to her brilliant novel, focusing on Teddy, the RAF pilot and brother of the previous book’s heroine....But if A God in Ruins suffers from a touch too much tidiness, if it overcalculates the glories of a sensitive “artistic soul,” those flaws pale next to Atkinson’s wit, humanity, and wisdom. In her afterword, she alludes to the “great conceit hidden at the heart of the book to do with fiction and the imagination, which is revealed only at the end.” It is a great conceit. But it’s also a testament to the novel’s craft and power that the conceit isn’t what you’ll remember when it’s over.
A God in Ruins doesn’t have a plot so much as a question, namely: How does such a lovely, perfect guy produce such a horrible, ungrateful daughter? Atkinson’s characteristic intelligence and wit are often on prominent display in the novel, yet it isn’t quite idiosyncratic enough to avoid the pitfalls of plotlessness. The chapters describing Teddy’s wartime exploits, in particular, feel over-long and over-detailed. One gets the sense that Atkinson has done a lot of painstaking research and doesn’t want to waste the fruits of her labour. ...Unlike Life After Life, which began flamboyantly and had a large cast of nuanced characters, this novel’s rewards come late in its pages. Until they do, we’re left in the company of two people who are ultimately rather dull: one because he’s “deplorably honest,” the other because she’s exasperatingly self-serving. Narrative psychology tells us there’s bound to be an explanation for this, and there is; the question is whether readers will have the patience to stick around and find out what it is.
But then you read a novel like Kate Atkinson’s “A God in Ruins,” a sprawling, unapologetically ambitious saga that tells the story of postwar Britain through the microcosm of a single family, and you remember what a big, old-school novel can do. Atkinson’s book covers almost a century, tracks four generations, and is almost inexhaustibly rich in scenes and characters and incidents. It deploys the whole realist bag of tricks, and none of it feels fake or embarrassing. In fact, it’s a masterly and frequently exhilarating performance by a novelist who seems utterly undaunted by the imposing challenges she’s set for herself....Taken together, “Life After Life” and “A God in Ruins” present the starkest possible contrast. In the first book, there’s youth and a multitude of possible futures. In the second, there’s only age and decay, and a single immutable past. This applies not only to the characters, but to England itself, which is portrayed over and over as a drab and diminished place. The culprit is obvious — it’s the war itself, “the great fall from grace.”
A God in Ruins is the story of Teddy’s war and its legacy, “a ‘companion’ piece rather than a sequel”, according to the author. At first glance it appears to be a more straightforward novel than Life After Life, though it shares the same composition, flitting back and forth in time so that a chapter from Teddy’s childhood in 1925 sits alongside a fragment of his grandchildren’s childhood in the 1980s, before jumping back to 1947, when Teddy and his wife Nancy, newly married, are trying to come to terms with the aftermath of the devastation: ...A God in Ruins, together with its predecessor, is Atkinson’s finest work, and confirmation that her genre-defying writing continues to surprise and dazzle.

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kate Atkinsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Jennings, AlexNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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'A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be no longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we awake from dreams.'

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
'The purpose of Art is to convey the truth of a thing, not to be the truth itself.'

Sylvie Beresford Todd
For Reuben
First words
He walked as far as the hedge that signalled the end of the airfield.
He had been reconciled to death during the war and then suddenly the war was over and there was a next day and a next day and a next day. Part of him never adjusted to having a future.
Maurice was a Whitehall mandarin, a pillar of respectability ... Maurice would have been very annoyed to be considered junior enough to rubber-stamp anything. He signed. A fluid, careless signature from his silver Sheaffer.
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Kate Atkinson's dazzling Life after Life explored the possibility of infinite chances and the power of choices, following Ursula Todd as she lived through the turbulent events of the last century over and over again. A God in Ruins tells the dramatic story of the twentieth century through Ursula's beloved younger brother Teddy--would-be poet, heroic pilot, husband, father, and grandfather--as he navigates the perils and progress of a rapidly changing world. After all that Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is living in a future he never expected to have.

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