“A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we awake from dreams.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Oh the joy of sinking into a family saga by reading the sequel/companion novel right away! Reminds me of the massive English family sagas that I used to read by authors like Susan Howatch and Rosamunde Pilcher.
The main character in this book is Teddy, a minor character in Life After Life and Ursula’s little brother. He marries his childhood sweetheart and is portrayed as a gentle decent man, a long-suffering father to a horrible daughter who makes life very difficult for everyone around her. “He loved Viola as only a parent can love a child, but it was hard work.” Happily her two children grow up well despite their splendidly cantankerous mother (an ex-hippie turned novelist, “almost as good as Jodi Picoult”). Most of the book focusses on Ted as an RAF pilot in the war, working the strategic bombing commands over Germany. These missions were some of the worst, with very high casualties–as harrowing to read as the London Blitz sections in Life After Life, but all very well described.
A God in Ruins did not have the unique structure that Life After Life had, but she does toy with time a bit in this one as well, flitting back and forth. I did not find that annoying and I think it enhanced the story. Atkinson writes beautifully about everyday sorts of things but also using imagery, in this case about rising and falling, especially ascending in flight or falling back to earth. I think I liked Life After Life better, because of the way she played with infinite chances and possible scenarios, but I did love how some of the little mysteries in Life After Life were answered in A God in Ruins–another good reason to read them in tandem.
1. a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
2. something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form
“On a cold and snowy night in 1920, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.”
Not everyone will like this novel’s inventive structure, which plays with the possibilities of infinite chances, but I loved it. The author writes beautifully and uses this unique literary device to great effect. It’s as if the story is on tape and someone hits the rewind button and the same scenario plays out again, but with a slight twist that makes a huge difference. I found this toying with the “what-ifs” both fascinating and captivating and never tiresome. The Todd family was hugely entertaining and became so familiar because of the repetitions and viewing them from different angles. Towards the end of the book, the term palimpsest is mentioned in passing. I did have to look it up, and found the definition an elegant description of this very book. Very clever indeed.
I think I will indulge my impulse to just carry right on with the Todds in A God in Ruins, not exactly a sequel but a companion novel. It is about Ursula’s younger brother Teddy, a minor character in Life After Life. Teddy is the subject of their eccentric auntie’s children’s books, and a sweet and gentle soul. How he ends up as a fighter pilot in the war is unclear, as is what actually happened when his plane went down in flames and he was presumed dead.
Crime fiction is something I read occasionally. When the mystery is part of a series and the protagonist is familiar, it becomes a great thing to pick up when headed for a lazy day in the sun and sand. This one does feel very much like a beach read.
Case Histories is first of the Jackson Brodie books and takes place in Britain. It is also a popular TV series there. Atkinson has written several other mysteries that are not part of this series.
The book begins with three seemingly random cases at the beginning which set up the story. Of course they become inevitably intertwined by the end. Atkinson did a good job of making me care about the people in the story as well as looking for the whodunits. There are lots of clues along the way but they get thrown in unexpectedly so you have to pay attention. There is some violence, and some rather blunt, rough language so if that bothers you, stick to Miss Marple. The tone that was set by doing that though, seemed to fit the atmosphere of the novel which has a quirky, comic feel to it, despite some very serious circumstances.
Jackson Brodie, the private eye, has a haunting history of his own to deal with and his own problems to solve. His adventures continue in One Good Turn, When will There be Good News, and Started Early, Took my Dog.