Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
A God in Ruins follows the life of Teddy Todd for 87 years from 1925 to 2012. Teddy is a very likeable man. He loves walking in meadows, watching hares boxing, talking to his dog and reading literature. He is a kind person who treats other people with respect.
The book is about relationships, the ways that we love other people and the damage that families cause to one another. It’s about war. About the mechanics of the Allied bombings of Germany in WWII. About comradeship, healing and honesty.
Author, Kate Atkinson jumps around in the timeline a lot, so that we lurch from 1943 to 2012 in adjoining chapters. I found this enjoyable and I liked finding out more about the different plotlines when we jumped ahead. I wonder if the novel would work if it was read in chronological order, like a choose your own adventure book?
Atkinson employs an interesting technique of giving the ultimate fate of a person at the same time as introducing that person. For example when Teddy met his childhood friend Bea in London during WWII she was engaged to a doctor:
Teddy never met Bea’s doctor. He went over with the troops on D-Day and was killed on Gold beach and instead she married a surgeon after the war.
I enjoyed reading this book immensely. I learnt a lot about the mechanics of bombing. It was very interesting and horrifying. The description of the fire bombing of Hamburg is awful. The constant loss of lives of the RAF air crews is terrible as the British government continues flinging them against the wall. Atkinson did a lot of research, including reading accounts written by air crews.
It was also interesting to read about daily life in the barracks, about the food served in the canteen and the clothing the airmen wore in their long cold night flights. Teddy occasionally had casual sex both before the war, while on a poetry writing, farm working trip in France where he enjoyed the food and the hot slices of sunshine but also occasional rumbles in tree hay with farm girls. He had a girlfriend, Nancy, in England but he didn’t admit to these betrayals. During the war he had sex with various women as well and it seemed to provide some comfort to him.
Atkinson creates believable and fallible characters. Viola is awful from childhood through terrible parenting, to selfish adulthood. Only in the final glimpses to we catch a glimpse of her breaking out of her bad rut. I wonder if the scene that she watched in her home at the age of 9 was what estranged her from her father and from loving anyone? I am a bit scarred from reading that scene. The ultimate act of love.
I don’t want to spoil the ending but I was completely shocked by it. I felt cheated by Atkinson. I still can’t figure out if it was very clever of her or very clichéd? What did you think?