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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A journey from innocence to experience - for a character, and for a nation

Much of the middle passage in Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins concerns the later years of the main character, Teddy, as his grumpy and difficult daughter (whom we learn quite late is a successful novelist, though she does not seem the type, to me, with her indifference to other people and their feelings)  - and we also get a few sections about his early married life - he worked on a small newspaper, his wife, Nancy, moved about among teaching jobs, some doing the noble work of teaching math, or, as the English say, maths, in a working-class school, later at a posh private, or as the English say, public, school. A few mysteries remain: How exactly did Nancy die? We know she died young, devastating her only child, the unhappy-ever-after Viola, and leaving Teddy in isolation - it appears he never remarried and we know little about his social life outside of family. Second, Teddy - what made him as he is? It's an English novel, so we know before even starting that the War formed his character; we have had, so far, half-way thru, no significant direct scenes about his war experiences, what we know we have gleaned from indirection, such as his few reflections to his also-sullen grandson, Sunny, as they visit a military cemetery near York (I think), his occasional memories of a wartime tryst or the death in combat of friends of acquaintances. We know he wrestles w/ guilt about bombing civilian targets and nasty, holier than thou daughter plays on that and holds it against him - but what was he to do, he was fighting for his country in one of the few great noble battles, a fight against tyranny, fascism, and anti-Semitism - so if he had to bomb the hell out of Germany so be it, I say. Somehow this part of his life hasn't opened yet in the novel, but I'm confident that Atkinson is building toward the war scenes, the time that turned Teddy from a sheltered and somewhat innocent boy into a man, at about age 20. His transformation is, or will be, a paradigm for much 20th-century (and before) fiction, a journey from innocence to experience, youth to age - but in his case the journey parallels that of his nation.

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