Kate Atkinson takes the title of her latest, A God In Ruins, from a phrase in Emerson. Fitting. Much of the conduct of her characters might be taken from the most positive passages of Hamlet’s “Oh what a piece of work is man” speech. Much of it is–either by design or accident–sordid and shameful.
We’re back with some of the characters from her splendid Life After Life, and the technique is parallel. We get different fictive lives for many of the characters, different possible plot lines, different ways in which live could have gone and looks at what would have happened to the other characters around them had they died–or not–at particular moments. Some actions have consequences. Some are accidents (are you listening, Kurt Vonnegut?). Two eggs drop. One breaks. One doesn’t. Who decides? Anyone?
The two central characters here are Teddy and daughter Viola. Teddy, the unwilling warrior. Turned bomber pilot by the exigencies of WWII, but trying to live a bucolic existence that would harm not an aphid. Viola, the mother who lost her mother and blames her father and other various targets of her ire. Including her children.
But this is not a book to be described or summarized. It is to be read and experienced in Atkinson’s inimitable weaving of reality and probability, of fiction and fact, of pain and ecstasy. What we tell and what we keep to ourselves and why. What we fear. Mostly what we fear and how we handle it.