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

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Friday, March 25, 2016

An impressive portrait of a man, of a familiy, of England over the course of a century

Kate Atkinson's novel A God in Ruins, a family portrait over generations told in long chapters from different eras, out of chronological sequence - a mosaic technique that Atkinson managers effectively because of her attentive development of character and her acute sense of period detail (without being flashy and without showing the seams of assiduous research) - is beginning to cohere, about 1/3 of the way through, into a novel about Teddy: we see him in the first long chapter as an 11-year-old and in later chapters as a WWII RAF combatant (these will be developed much more later in the novel it seems); as a young man in the banking profession, which he hates (following his father, the dull and dour Hugh), on the eve of WWII and about to enlist; as a newlywed to his next-door-neighbor and childhood sweetheart, Nancy. Chapters I read last night show him as an older man, in about 1980 dealing with his difficult daughter, Viola, who lives variously in squats and in rural communes and is perennially unhappy, unappreciated, unfulfilled, and bitter - then in a later chapter ca 1999 as he's in his 80s and Viola, along w/ her sullen children (at least the boy is sullen, with the "ironic" name Sunny) moving Teddy against his wishes into assisted living, and trying to get her hands on any and all of his valuables (she misses out on the potential value of some of the period furniture and kicks herself later - ha!). We really are getting to see a complex character unfold over the course of a lifetime, and in the process watching the whole culture of England unfold - facing the traumas of both world wars, the sadness of reconstruction in the 1950s, the social upheavals of the Vietnam and Thatcher eras - a pretty impressive book, and not one I ordinarily would be drawn to, so far.

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