Warning: serious spoiler in this blog!
Atkinson has steadily become one of the major contemporary authors. Her Case Histories are more than just detectives, her literary work excels time and time again. In her afterword she explains that for her A God in Ruins is foremost about brave pilots carrying bombs night after night to Germany in WW2. Her admiration for these men is what bothers me in those chapters. It is as if she has not been fully capable of separating her admiration from her writing, as a result those chapters felt slightly too patriotic, slightly too much brave men of England stoically doing their duty. My biggest eye opener was their young age. For some kind of reason I associated WW2 pilots with the likes of David Niven or Richard Burton who were selected to play them in important WW2 movies. Main character Teddy and his crew however are merely 20 when they start bombing Germany. Atkinson describes those flights that ended in may-hap in Life after Life, in which sister Ursula died time after time after time to give her beloved a second chance. Thus Teddy continues living; his life before and after the war is what I loved about A God in Ruins: delicately and sensitively written, in beautifully crafted sentences. We get to know Teddy and his wife Nancy better, their child Viola and her children Sunny aka Ed and Moon aka Bertie. Teddy’s way of coping with WW2 is not talking about it and soldiering on, ever so friendly and kind. His tactic may work for him, it fails when it comes to consoling his daughter when Nancy dies. Her trauma becomes evident towards the end of the novel, it explains why she has turned out to such a self-centered bitch. It did not make me like Viola, it did make me pity her. And her poor children who had to suffer through childhood as a result of their mother’s fickelty.
At the very end Atkinson connects A God in Ruins to Life After Life. When Teddy dies of extreme old age, Atkinson returns to his last flight. This time however he does not survive. In a chillingly well written paragraph she has him sacrifice his life for one of his crew and fall to the bottom of the North Sea in a burning airplane. No David Niven-like hero, just a plain man doing his best and succeeding only partly. With Teddy’s death Viola, Sun/Ed and Moon/Bertie disappear: they have never been. Their life was one giant disillusion. I understood what happened because I have read Life after Life, it does make me wonder what those people make of it who do not know what happened in the predecessor. Do they like this twist to the story or do they find it highly illogical?
A God in Ruins is once again an excellent Atkinson. I hope she continues writing this well.