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

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Friday, April 1, 2016

English insouciance about death - in World War II and in A God in Ruins

Back to Teddy Todd's war experiences in the next chapter in Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins, as we go to 1943, when he's beginning as a bomber pilot, hasn't yet done his scariest missions, he's adopted a stray dog who actually goes as a stow-away on one of the bombing missions and the soldiers have to share their oxygen w/ the poor mutt - another truly English theme, as we know the English seem to like their dogs more than their kids, who are just in the way and need to be shipped off to boarding school. The main theme to this chapter seems to be the English insouciance about death, the sense that any of them, even people not in service but living in London during the bombings - something that we Americans have never experienced - recognize that they might die at any time, which leads to lots of quick affairs and to a general lack of commitment to anything long term. Teddy becomes engaged to Nancy, whom we know that he will marry (and lose at a relatively young age) - but at the time of their engagement he thinks it's absurd to imagine anything "after the war" - he is so certain that he will die in service. He has a brief, passionate affair w/ a very beautiful and wealthy woman - they visit her house in Regents Park, where the paintings, including a Rembrandt, are kept under wraps - she offers him the Rembrandt but he declines, later regrets that as the house and its contents were later destroyed by a bomb. The whole brief relationship has the feel or a dream or a dare - and he is almost completely indifferent years later when he learns she was killed in by a bomb. This chapter is a great example of how the war changed England, seemingly forever but at least for 2 generations. We've seen this in a ton of fiction already - Atonement one great recent example - so this chapter feels a bit less fresh and original than others, such as the bomber pilot 1944 chapter, which was about as vivid as war writing can get.

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