A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson follows on from her much acclaimed novel Life after Life. Although it is not a formal sequel, it does share many of the characters, and covers some of the same period, although it is narrated from a different perspective. It is not necessary to have read Life after Life in order to enjoy her present novel, but anyone who has will benefit by being aware of much of the background.
WhereasLife after Life followed Ursula Todd as she was condemned to live her life over and over,A God in Ruins centres on her younger brother Teddy and his experiences as an RAF pilot during the war. Although this is seemingly a much more straightforward book, it still succeeds in juxtaposing scenes from different periods in time. The author has cleverly used this to create the mystery at the centre of the book, thus making the final revelation all the more surprising.
Of course, Teddy’s time in the RAF is the central theme in the book, and this together with his struggle to adapt to a civilian life, will ensure that it appeals to a wide audience. On this, Atkinson’s research has been extensive, although this has not been at the expense of dramatic storytelling. Interestingly, the Special Operations Executive also gets a brief mention.
However, this is much more than the story of how one RAF pilot beat the odds. Ultimately it is a thoroughly thought provoking book which explores the shadow which the war still casts over us, while also exploring the role of literature in helping us to make sense of our past.
Although lacking some of the originality of Life after Life, this is nevertheless a well constructed book with plenty to enjoy. I can certainly agree that it is worthy to be shortlisted for the 2015 Costa book award.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
SECOND OPINION: The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer