That Time I Channelled Bradley Cooper

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Reading Life After Life was like a religious experience for me. At the time it was magical, original and incredibly beautiful. I fell in love with Ursula Todd and Fox Corner.

So when I heard that Atkinson was writing a follow up novel, A God in Ruins, I was excited.

Despite the fact that in the interim I have tried to read a number of her other books and hated every single one of them. It’s been an incredible source of frustration for me because a) other people seem to love her other books so what’s wrong with me? And b) technically her books are exquisite. It’s rare for me to read books that are so well written and still hate them. But I do. My biggest gripe always seems to be that nothing good ever happens to redeem all the sh*t that she makes her characters go through.

But I digress.

In A God in Ruins, Atkinson attempts to tell the story of Teddy, Ursula’s younger brother. Except that this time there’s no wonderful do-over aspect. Teddy just lives his life while Atkinson tells it by jumping all over the damn place. Teddy’s experience in the war as an RAF pilot (sections that really could have been something and still bored me); Teddy as an old man, forced to move into seniors’ housing by his daughter Viola; Viola’s experiences as a young wife and mother, and later as a successful novelist; Teddy looking after his grandchildren, Bertie and Sunny, when his daughter is off doing her own thing; Teddy’s wife Nancy, grappling with her own mortality.

The whole time reading A God in Ruins felt like a chore. I was working so hard to get to something, anything that connected me back to the world I loved in Life After Life. Even Ursula herself makes few appearances, limited to short visits and snippets Teddy remembers from letters she’s written. When it became clear that Ursula and Fox Corner weren’t going to be a part of this new story, I focused on finding something to connect with in this story. .Aside from Teddy (and Bertie and occasionally poor Sunny) these characters are horrible. Viola, Nancy and Sunny are all (mostly) selfish. I still can’t think of a single redeeming thing about them.

And then the ending. Normally I’m all about the redemptive power of a solid ending. But this ending made me want to throw the book across the room. After slogging through 360 some odd pages suddenly Atkinson throws in this curveball that’s supposed to make you go “whoa.”

A different 4-letter word comes to mind.

Am I overreacting? Possibly. It’s a book after all. Kate Atkinson hasn’t caused me any bodily harm. But I feel ripped off. Life After Life was such a perfect book and A God in Ruins didn’t need to happen. But it did and I got my hopes up and they were crushed. It kills me because Atkinson is such a good writer. What she can do with language, few can. She writes some of the most beautiful prose and completely ruins it with horrible characters and a timeline that jumps all over the place. Instead of it being inventive, it’s frustrating and confusing.

I want to think about that ending as beautiful and inspiring. Instead, this comes to mind:  

22 thoughts on “That Time I Channelled Bradley Cooper

  1. Props to you for reading it, though. I gave up around page 75 because I wasn’t in the mood for what felt like such a chore (you put that perfectly). And like you, I loooooved Life After Life, her writing, everything. So I was super disappointed. You definitely aren’t alone!

  2. THANK YOU. I actually liked the end, but I was just as frustrated because it was TEN PAGES worth of good after a book of boring. I felt like I was all alone in my frustration when we discussed it at Socratic Salon…it seems like most people love it or really appreciate it and I just…didn’t.

  3. That Bradley Cooper scene is hilarious! And so is your review!!

    I read Atkinson’s Nights at the Museum (or whatever it’s called) about 20 years ago and hated it. I’ve never read anything else by her since then. I have to tune out all the buzz about her because she’s so loved and admired in the UK. Your review has only confirmed what I already think…

    • That scene really is so great.
      She IS so revered! I don’t get it! I mean, I get it. She’s a solid writer. But I can’t with her books every time. Would it kill her to give someone, anyone, a happy ending of sorts?

  4. Atkinson is one of my favourite authors, and I loved A God in Ruins until the ending which almost made me do a Bradley Cooper too! I just didn’t feel like it worked at all; it’s almost like everyone wants to do an Atonement-esque ending and I don’t think it always works.

  5. Haha! It’s too bad that you didn’t like it, but it wasn’t a complete waste – this entertaining review has come out of it. 🙂 I love that clip of Silver Linings Playbook.
    But, now I feel so conflicted. I’ve read a couple of great reviews of this book recently, and I have it on hold at the library. Will it be a waste of time? On the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt to know what the fuss is about, good or bad. I’d like to weigh in with my own opinion, even though I suspect it will probably come out somewhere (boringly) in the middle.

  6. That was a really entertaining review! I have to say I’ve tried Kate Atkinson before and been slightly bemused as to what all the fuss was about. I know lots of people love her and each to their own, but you’re not alone, she’s not for me either! 🙂

  7. Hmmm… I think Atkinson’s books are good, but she has a bit of a “one-trick” thing, which can make the books seem better than they are and soon wears off. Eg the I loved the Museum book because I was a teenager when I read it, and it was all about this voice of a child/teenager and the way the coincidences and threads of time ran together was all “Wow!” to me at that age. Then it all went a bit flat for me until the detective guy came along, where the gimmick was the kind of “literary take on the detective story”. And then jumping back and forth through time with Life After Life. It sounds like maybe she is trying the curveball ending again as she did with Museum?

    • YES. It starts to feel forced and a bit gimmicky for sure. It kills me because I really loved Life After Life. It’s hard to reconcile that reading experience with every other experience I’ve had reading Atkinson’s work.

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