God in Ruins (Atkinson)

A God in Ruins  (Todd Family, 2)
Kate Atkinson, 2015
Little, Brown and Compay
480 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316176507

The stunning companion to Kate Atkinson's #1 bestseller Life After Life, "one of the best novels I've read this century" (Gillian Flynn).

"He had been reconciled to death during the war and then suddenly the war was over and there was a next day and a next day. Part of him never adjusted to having a future."

Kate Atkinson's dazzling Life After Life explored the possibility of infinite chances and the power of choices, following Ursula Todd as she lived through the turbulent events of the last century over and over again.

A God in Ruins tells the dramatic story of the 20th Century through Ursula's beloved younger brother Teddy—would-be poet, heroic pilot, husband, father, and grandfather—as he navigates the perils and progress of a rapidly changing world. After all that Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is living in a future he never expected to have.

An ingenious and moving exploration of one ordinary man's path through extraordinary times, A God in Ruins proves once again that Kate Atkinson is one of the finest novelists of our age. (From the publisher.)

This is the companion book to Atkinsons's Life After Life, published in 2013.

Author Bio
Where—York, England, UK
Education—M.A., Dundee University
Awards—Whitbread Award; Woman's Own Short Story Award; Ian St. James Award;
   Saltire Book of the Year Award; Prix Westminster
Currently—lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Kate Atkinson was born in York, and studied English Literature at the University of Dundee, gaining her Masters Degree in 1974. She subsequently studied for a doctorate in American Literature which she failed at the viva stage. During her final year of this course, she was married for the first time, although the marriage lasted only two years.

After leaving the university, she took on a variety of miscellaneous jobs from home help to legal secretary and teacher. She lived in Whitby, Yorkshire for a time, before moving to Edinburgh, where she taught at Dundee University and began writing short stories. She now lives in Edinburgh.

She initially wrote for women's magazines after winning the 1986 Woman's Own Short Story Competition. She was runner-up for the Bridport Short Story Prize in 1990 and won an Ian St James Award in 1993 for her short-story "Karmic Mothers," which she later adapted for BBC2 television as part of its Tartan Shorts series.

Atkinson's breakthrough was with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which won the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year award, ahead of Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh and Roy Jenkins biography of William Ewart Gladstone. The book has been adapted for radio, theatre and television. She has since written several more novels, short stories and a play. Case Histories (2004) was described by Stephen King as "the best mystery of the decade." The book won the Saltire Book of the Year Award and the Prix Westminster.

Her work is often celebrated for its wit, wisdom and subtle characterisation, and the surprising twists and plot turns. Four of her novels have featured the popular former detective Jackson Brodie—Case Histories (2004), One Good Turn (2006), When Will There Be Good News (2008), and Started Early, Took My Dog (2010). She has shown that, stylistically, she is also a comic novelist who often juxtaposes mundane everyday life with fantastic magical events, a technique that contributes to her work's pervasive magic realism.

Life After Life (2013) revolves around Ursula Todd's continual birth and rebirth. Janet Maslin of the New York Times called it "a big book that defies logic, chronology and even history in ways that underscore its author's fully untethered imagination."

A God in Ruins (2015), the companion book to Life After Life, follows Ursula's brother Todd who survived the war, only to succumb to disillusionment and guilt at having survived.

Atkinson was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2011 Birthday Honours for services to literature. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
(Starred review.) [A]s in Life After Life, Atkinson isn’t just telling a story: she’s deconstructing, taking apart the notion of how we believe stories are told. Using narrative tricks that range from the subtlest sleight of hand to direct address, she makes us feel the power of storytelling not as an intellectual conceit, but as a punch in the gut.
Publishers Weekly

Here's a sequel to Atkinson's remarkably shape-shifting Costa Award winner, Life After Life, telling the story of Ursula Todd's brother Teddy. Teddy is an RAF bomber pilot and aspiring poet for whom warfare was nothing compared with the struggle to adjust to different expectations in peacetime.
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Atkinson constantly keeps us guessing, the story looping over itself in time ("This was when people still believed in the dependable nature of time—a past, a present, a future—the tenses that Western civilization was constructed on") and presenting numerous possibilities for how Teddy's life might unfold depending on the choices he makes.... A grown-up, elegant fairy tale.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. The sacrifices one generation makes for the next is a major theme of the novel. How does Teddy view the sacrifices that he made in his life to provide a future for Viola, Sunny and Bertie? In what ways do Viola, Sunny and Bertie recognize Teddy’s sacrifices in their own lives and set out to ensure they give them meaning? In what ways do they disrespect his sacrifices?

2. Teddy views the outbreak of war as a relief—a higher duty that will save him from the monotony of everyday life. Why does Teddy fear settling into a stable existence? Does the war provide the sense of purpose that Teddy was searching for? Paradoxically, does the adventure of war prepare him for a settled adulthood as the "Voice of Reason"?

3. Izzie was awarded the Croix de Guerre during her time as an ambulance driver in the First World War, a fact that her family only discovered following her death. Why does Izzie keep her honor a secret from the family? What other secrets do characters in the book guard closely? Why?

4. Speaking of Hugh’s refusal to return to his boarding school, Sylvie says, "going back is usually more painful than going forward" (p. 10). The narrative structure of A God in Ruins moves back and forth time to give a fuller picture of its characters. How does this technique influence how you view the book and its characters? Are all returns to the past painful?

5. How would you characterize Teddy’s relationship with his sister Ursula? How does it compare to his relationships with the other members of his family?

6. Teddy feels adrift returning o daily life. The horrors of combat force him to reexamine everything he though about the world around him:  "The whole edifice of civilization turned out to be constructed from an unstable mix of quicksand and imagination" (p. 116). What does Teddy mean by this? Do you agree?

7. Teddy’s relationship with Nancy changes following the war: "before the war he did know her—but now she was a continual surprise" (p. 73). Has Nancy herself changed, or has Teddy’s perception of her changed? Did Teddy still want to marry Nancy when he returned from the war? Returning to the theme of sacrifice, what sacrifices does Nancy make for Teddy?

8. How does Atkinson port love throughout the book? What relationships illustrate the difference between love and desire?

9. When Teddy visits the cemetery where Hugh is buried, he says to Bertie "Promise me you’ll make the most of your life" (p. 124). Does Teddy feel like he was able to make the most out of his own life?

10. Time is another major theme that Atkinson explores throughout A God in Ruins. Does Teddy’s journey through time make you view the passage of time in your own life differently?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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