This book is a ‘companion’ to Atkinson’s earlier book Time After Time. It’s odd- my recollection is that I very much enjoyed that book and yet when I look back at my review, I obviously had reservations. It’s strange how one’s lasting impression of a book can differ from the response immediately upon finishing it.
In the earlier Time After Time, Ursula Todd’s brother Teddy, RAF pilot, was missing after a bombing raid over Germany, presumed dead. The Ursula character had several alternative lives presented within the pages of the one book, and in one of those Teddy reappears at the end of WWII after two years in a German POW camp.
It is this particular scenario that is explored in this more recent book A God in Ruins. In this stand-alone iteration, Teddy survives over 70 flights and three tours of duty, an almost incredible feat given the attrition of pilots in bombing raids over Europe, and lives to a very old age.
This later book glances off Time after Time, but is not at all dependent upon it. In fact, you could read this book without any awareness that there is another book until, perhaps the last few pages. It’s a narrative told straight, albeit with chronological jumps between Teddy’s childhood, his old age, his marriage to his childhood sweetheart Nancy, the birth of his daughter Viola and her anger at him that blights his old age and the childhoods of his grandchildren. There are rather long stretches of his flying experience which are obviously carefully researched and stop at just the point where the reader’s interest wanes- one of the hallmarks of a writer well in charge of her material but conscious of her readers.
The book seems as if it’s going to be a departure from Time After Time in that there’s only one plot, albeit chopped up and rearranged in its narrative structure. It was a plot that engaged me completely as I found myself laughing at Teddy’s grand-daughter’s wry asides, feeling disturbed by Viola’s harshness with her father when he was such a good man, and sad to watch illness and old age gradually quash people I had come to care about. And then, in the last pages, down come all the narrative walls as Atkinson again throws the whole conceit of the book back up into the air, just as she did in Time After Time. I felt disappointed, as if she’d revealed herself to be a bit of a one-trick pony. The book closed with a fairly academic essay on the nature of fiction.
I suppose that my dissatisfaction with the ending proved the points she made her theorizing about fiction and narrative but dammit- I felt betrayed. Mind you, as soon as another book comes out, I’ll forget about it just as I did when I opened this book with such anticipation thinking to myself “I love Kate Atkinson”. Perhaps it’s a love where absence makes the heart grow fonder.
My rating: 8.5/10
Sourced from: CAE bookgroups
Read because: a face-to-face bookgroup read