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

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Who's not afraid of Virginia Woolf?: A novel in her style - A God in Ruins

Giving Kate Atkinson a lot of credit for the opening segment (about 50 pages) of her novel A God in Ruins, which introduces many characters across 4 generations and somehow manages to keep the characters clear and distinct - she has found, it seems, the right balance between making each character unique and specific without falling into the trap of making characters into types, cliches, or assemblages of characteristics. Her muse, I think, has to be Virginia Woolf, especially in long chapter two which focuses on a day in the life of a family, primarily the 11-year-old son, Teddy, but shifting kaleidoscopically among the characters, shifting points of view to present a larger picture, a mosaic-portrait. Her style of course is not as elegant as Woolf's and she relies too frequently on fragment, which to me are incomplete thoughts, a writer's crutch (and a bloggers salvation). to give a brief sense of where the novel stands at this point: Oldest generation, ca 1920, father a banker who avoided service in the War (yes, this is an English novel so we will of course get not one but 2 world wars) ad who thinks about having an affair with next-door neighbor (whose husband is an injured war vet and cannot have sex) and his wife an artistic-literary type (her father a well-known 19th-century portraitist who died in deep debt); of the children the focus is on Teddy, an active and inquisitive kid formerly a Boy Scout but now joined w/ a new pacifist and co-ed group; has a crush on neighbor's daughter Nancy; he's visited by Aunt Izzy, a bohemian and scandalous sort, who in the long chapter plies him w/ annoying questions about his interests and habits - later we see that she has done so to use him as a character, Augusts, in a series of children's books. We see in a short chapter that Teddy served w/ the airborne in WWII; we also see Teddy's somewhat estranged daughter, Viola, in 1960s or so, she and partner are "flower children," unwed, parents of 2 (Sunny and Moon), all of whom have difficult relations with the more conventional grandfather. Whew. We'll see where she goes with this - can this novel bear the weight of more characters? And will the picture cohere or scatter?

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