If you finish reading a book and then you have to go upstairs and make your teenage kids beds for them, pick up the dirty washing, fold up their clothes and then burst into tears does that make this a good read? I think it probably does. It always looked as if it would be difficult to follow up Life After Life which, in the barest summary, is about multiple lives and universes but A God in Ruins does the job. It takes Teddy, the brother of the central character and traces his life or, more accurately, a version of his life. I can’t say more. Time doesn’t pass for the bomber squadrons who live in a permanent futureless present but then it stretches lazily out in the novel past the Millennium.
The war, wanton destruction and waste is portrayed as powerfully as in the first book but what we also have here are the consequences of war and the way it echoes through the next sixty years in fiction and imagination. The aftermath of war – ‘afterwards’ for those who were unlikely ever to see it is portrayed in all of its selfish dismal details, lacking appreciation of the war effort, failing to capitalise on the peace, and losing touch with the next generation of children.
Kate Atkinson gets polemical here, railing at selfish women, the establishment, private education and how we treat the elderly and although she claims not to, you can see she just can’t help it. I find that likeable but it might irk others. And, lastly, A God in Ruins metaphorically embraces the damage done by war and by religion and by governments in his name. It’s a great read.