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

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Any sense to this ending?: Thoughts about the conclusion of A God in Ruins

Spoilers coming: The conclusion of Kate Atkinson's novel A God in Ruins is either a neat surprise or an authorial cop-out, depending on your tolerance as a reader for self-reflexive novels, fiction about fiction - let's not call it postmodern, because I think we're way beyond that era and this novel is distinctly modernist from the first chapter onward, but at the end - while the main character, Teddy, is on his last bombing mission in WWII, plane losing altitude, and we're waiting to see how he recovers - the novel, told out of chronological sequence - has many chapters about Teddy's postwar life, his marriage, children, grandchildren, as well as many references to his time spent at the end of the war as a POW - Atkinson has the plane crash land and Teddy dies - and then she steps in an tells us, see that's what fiction can do, that's what authors can do, and now, she says, imagine all of the other characters and how their lives will be different without Teddy, and she spins a little plot summary for most of the main characters. Is this a satisfactory ending? I was brought up short, I admit, and I'm not sure what value is added to the novel by this breaking down of the "fourth wall" - but Atkinson does get us to think about fact and fiction, in this novel so closely based on her assiduous research into the war - she lists sources at the end, as if this were a work of nonfiction. I learned only from her long author's note at the end that this novel is a "companion" to her previous one, Life After Life, which is she notes about Teddy's sister Ursula, who, I'm guessing, lives several different fictional lives (another Woolf echo); I wonder if the previous volume explored in any depth the curious hint at the outset of A God in Ruins that Teddy may have been his Aunt Izzie's son, born out of wedlock and given up for adoption - nothing more was made of that fact in God in Ruins. In any event, quibble about the ending or even rage against it as you will, but ending aside it's a powerful work of late modernism and yet another English take on the effects of war on national culture and domestic life.

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