A God in Ruins is a companion piece to Atkinson’s novel Life after Life. We follow Teddy, Ursula’s beloved brother through his war years into old age. As with Life After Life, Atkinson plays with structure, in this novel we pass forwards and backwards in time, with the omniscient narrator adding in little bits yet to come, or knowledge that the characters wouldn’t have (eg. odd glances into what happened to some of Teddy’s crew).
The main parts of the novel are taken over with Teddy’s time flying a bomber in WW2, his marriage and the childhood of his daughter, the childhood of his grandchildren and his old age (with his repulsive daughter wishing him closer and closer to death). The novel flits between these moments, at one crucial moment you are drawn away from the middle of a revelation for a good 50 pages which was frustrating.
I have read Atkinson before and have a very mixed reaction to her books, I loved Life After Life, hated Emotionally Weird and thought Case Histories was okay, but nothing memorable so I went into this with a little trepidation. This book took me a long time to read, generally whilst I was reading it I was enjoying myself, although some parts were long and tedious, but I had no urge to pick it up once I had put it down. Having looked at reviews many people who struggled with this book seem to have felt the same way, although the majority complained about the war years which I enjoyed reading about. My biggest bugbear was the sections in the present, one because I couldn’t believe how vile Viola was and constantly wanted to give her a slap, and secondly because it was so bleak and depressing.
On the whole for me this was a 3 star book, I want to love it more because of Ursula, who appears every now and then, Fox Corner, which is barely present and sadly missed, and Teddy but I think a good editing – especially of the final 50 pages – was needed.