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: