Kate Atkinson, author of Life After Life, is one of those novelists whose writing is very clever yet it comes off naturally. Where Life After Life explored infinite chances, as lived by Ursula Todd, A God in Ruins is the life lived by her younger brother Teddy.
Teddy is a pilot with Bomber Command during World War II and his story is wonderfully told in the most non-chronological way. This is the cleverness I speak of. Atkinson tells the story in this patchwork fashion where the reader comes to understand the whole story but the characters often seem well ahead of the game, it being their life and all. Atkinson moves the reader back and forth between a present time and a past. It reminded me of The Time Traveller’s Wife in that way, which I enjoyed very much.
I was fascinated by the details of the air raids because of the first-hand accounts I have from James’ grandfather. Of the 120,000 who served, 55,573 were killed including over 10,000 Canadians. Teddy is British, which doesn’t get him extra luck one way or the other. We know early on that Teddy survives the war because we know that he has a wife and child. But his wife dies. We don’t know why, but we do know that his daughter is a bit of a terror, and probably was from birth anyway.
There are lovely repeated references throughout the book, like the exaltation of skylarks (the lifting of birds/planes), quips about whether a certain character believes in reincarnation (which is funny if you’ve read the previous title), lucky charms, and references to poetry and novels that offer opportunities to think deeper if you so desire.
Although the setting is during the war, or the present day is seen through that lens, it’s not a war novel. It’s more about the mystery and revelation we have throughout our life. The knowledge we gain after the fact, and how we choose to respond or not respond.
This novel is a strong contender for favourite read of 2016.