A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins Kate AtkinsonKate Atkinson’s previous novel Life After Life published in 2013 told the story (or rather stories) of Ursula Todd who lives her life several times over in many variations with very different outcomes. Her latest book ‘A God in Ruins’ is a “companion novel” rather than a sequel which focuses on the life of Ursula’s younger brother Teddy. Spanning his life across the twentieth century and four generations of the Todd family, it draws on Teddy’s youth at Fox Corner, his wartime experiences as a pilot flying a Halifax bomber followed by later post-war years with his family. He marries his childhood sweetheart Nancy but has a strained relationship with their daughter Viola who shows little appreciation for the horrors Teddy witnessed when he served in Bomber Command.

Although the structure of ‘Life After Life’ may have seemed rather gimmicky at first glance, its real strengths were in Atkinson’s excellent storytelling and a cast of engaging characters, both of which are also present in ‘A God in Ruins’. Rather than adopting the same structural device again, Atkinson only follows one path of Teddy’s life – another completely different version – rather than several alternative stories this time. Even though the story flits back and forth in time between various episodes in Teddy’s life from youth to old age, Atkinson leaves some surprises to the very end and is just as inventive when handling one narrative as she is when managing several.

Atkinson balances understated humour and poignancy with great effect in her observational prose. Teddy’s transformative wartime experiences shape the rest of his life and the chapters detailing the RAF bombing raids during the Second World War form the heart of the novel and have been brilliantly researched. There is lighter relief elsewhere in the form of sly digs at Viola’s career as an author and Teddy’s exasperation at how he is treated in his old age by the younger generations of his family.

As ‘A God in Ruins’ is a companion novel to ‘Life After Life’ rather than a sequel, it doesn’t particularly matter which order you read them in and some readers who were less keen on the looping structure of Atkinson’s previous novel may prefer ‘A God in Ruins’. I’m so pleased that Atkinson has revisited the Todd family and produced another absorbing and moving account of their lives. Having deservedly won the Costa novel award earlier this year, I would be very surprised if ‘A God in Ruins’ wasn’t included on the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist due to be announced tomorrow.


Filed under Books

22 responses to “A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

  1. I hope you’re right about that Baileys longlisting. I couldn’t believe it when Life After Life failed to make it on to last year’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was definitely one of my favourite books from last year.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am with you on the longlist for tomorrow. Any predictions?


    • My wishlist/predictions would include Things We Have in Common by Tasha Kavanagh, Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, Fishnet by Kirstin Innes (read but not reviewed yet) and A God in Ruins of course! We’ll have to wait and see…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great, I’m looking foreword to this, as I found Life after Life wholly absorbing.


  5. I have just read this – do you think the book would have been better if Viola had been more understandable? I found her negativity towards everything a bit baffling. I was amazed at the poignancy of the depictions of the other characters, though, and thought this was even better than Life after Life so I will be looking out for the shortlist tomorrow!


    • I think it was more understandable when placed in the context of her reaction to Nancy’s death but I agree that Atkinson was very harsh towards her. Maybe there are alternative versions of Viola’s life where she was a bit more compassionate…


  6. I still haven’t read this, but know it will be great and so no rush to pick it up for now, saving it for a holiday, when I need the guaranteed great reads!


  7. An excellent book – I loved Life After Life and enjoyed this one just as much. Kate Atkinson is such a talented writer!


  8. Pingback: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2016 | A Little Blog of Books

  9. Life After Life is one of my favourite books, but I loved A God in Ruins in a different way. The bombing raid descriptions were quite exceptional; they made the war seem real in a way that nothing else I’ve ever read has done. Every genre the hugely versatile Atkinson turns her hand to is superb and this book was no exception.


  10. Nice overview of the book. I’m curious about the cover (I assume it’s the paperback?). I’ve seen this rabbit one, and a different one with a dead rabbit. What does the rabbit mean? I get the hardcover choice, because there’s a lot of bird imagery. But I’m drawing a blank on the rabbit.

    Anyway, check out my review if you’re so inclined: https://leviathanbound.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/a-god-in-ruins/

    Take care!


    • Thanks! Yes this is the UK paperback cover. I think the cover is a reference to a silver hare that Teddy has had since childhood which is his good luck charm.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ooookay, now I get it. That was the little totem he had right? Makes sense. I’ve seen an alternate cover with a dead hare that is a little more artistic. This one though… maybe it’s the text and the placement of the quotes. The whole cover just falls flat for me.

        Liked by 1 person

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