Wow… where do I start with this book?! It has certainly become one of my new favourites
and I urge anyone to give it a read. A God in Ruins is beautifully written and Atkinson’s narrative technique is truly breathtaking.
I have read Life After Life by Atkinson prior to reading A God in Ruins. Atkinson describes the two works as companion pieces, as Life After Life’s main protagonist Ursula Todd is sister to A God in Ruins’ Teddy, who the narrative is centred around. However, you do not need to have read one before the other, the texts almost present separate versions of Ursula and Teddy’s reality. This works particularly well as Life After Life is focussed upon the many different potential versions of Ursula’s life. A God in Ruins, as Atkinson acknowledges, can almost be read as a new separation version.
The novel follows the life of Teddy Todd, however this extends to Teddy’s family also. Teddy acts as an anchor to the multiple lives of his family past and present, all offering their own individual struggles. The intricate treatment of time aides in providing a plethora of fragments centred around Teddy. Furthermore, the non-linear narrative allows the reader to gradually build a picture of Teddy’s life, from his childhood, his time as a World War 2 bomber pilot, right up to old age. It also means the book can never be predictable, you will be transported from being alongside Teddy in his Halifax fighter pilot straight into 2012 following the life of Bertie, Teddy’s granddaughter.
The narrative voice is also rewardingly complex, offering narration from Teddy, his family, such as his child Viola and his grandchildren. Also, a presumed authorial voice is subtly slipped into individual commentary adding an omniscience to the text, but also helps in creating Atkinson’s slippery use of time. The reader gains an understanding of the sometimes strained familial relationships as they are gradually allowed to read particular circumstances from multiple perspectives.
As a lot of Teddy’s narrative is based on his time serving in, and the aftermath of, WW2, war is a particular theme in A God in Ruins. There is not so much a focus on the war itself, but more so of the repercussions that are faced by the individuals in which the war touches, and how one can attempt to cope in the aftermath of such an event. Throughout the text Teddy reiterates he finds it difficult to imagine there being an ‘after’ the war. When you skip into Teddy’s future, you can see he struggles to return to life and function in this ‘after’.
As a side note, Atkinson has included a form of bibliography at the end of the novel. I love this as you can see where she drew inspiration from, such as sources from the National Archives. I find it so interesting that you can gain insight into the stories, fact or fiction, which Atkinson used to create the story of Teddy Todd, and ultimately the story of his war and his life.
The power of literature also plays an important role in the text, which I found extremely rewarding. Littered in the narration are lines and references to real life texts and poetry, for example Bertie cannot help but recall lines from Wordsworth on her walk along The River Thames. Extracts from Teddy’s Aunt’s Adventures of Augustus, which she states is based on Teddy, are also included within the book. Atkinson does this to make a commentary on the power of possibility and imagination within fiction… which leads me to the amazing twist in the novel…
Not to worry! I won’t be sharing any spoilers! All I will say is that Atkinson’s point of possibility offered within fiction, within her fiction, becomes particularly poignant in one part of the book. I actually ended up gasping and had to set the book down. It has totally changed my perception (on what I can’t say- it’s a spoiler) and reframed the way I think about a particular matter. That is why I love this book. It has made a marked change on how I personally frame a certain issue, which I would argue is worth considering in our modern life time.
Reading this back and after several edits, I still don’t believe I can do this book justice! The best way you can experience it is to honestly read it for yourself. So please please do!
This post has bee quite a long one- so an extra big thank you if you managed to make it to the end! I would love to read your comments on what you thought of it, and please feel free to like and share too. Have you read something recently that made you just think wow? Has a particular book been the reason why you fell in love with reading? Fancy giving A God in Ruins a read- or if you already have- what did you think about the book? Make sure to let me know.