Friday, August 7, 2015

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Teddy Todd was the favorite child of mother, father and aunt. Sweet-natured and accommodating, his favorite boyhood activity was walking through the countryside near his home. He loved his pets, literature and Nancy, the girl next door. As an adult he maintained the same accommodating nature and was rather apathetic about adult endeavors, particularly employment. Before World War II, for want of any other interest, he followed his father and older brother into banking. After the war, he worked for local magazines and newspapers and married Nancy just because it seemed to be the thing to do. He lived and died as his wife, and later his daughter, wanted him to. But during World War II, he was different. War inspired him to join the RAF, become a leader of men and fly bombing raids over Germany. The gentle man who loved flowers and animals and poetry found his calling in raining down destruction on civilian populations. In years to come, he, like many other war veterans, found that later generations (represented by his self-absorbed, unlikeable daughter, Viola) did not appreciate, and even disparaged, his service and accomplishments.
A God in Ruins is a companion piece to Kate Atkinson’s award winning book, Life After Life but also a contrast, particularly in the aspects of wartime bombing. In Life After Life, Atkinson skillfully and with horrifying detail created a London suffering through a ferocious effort to bomb its populace into submission. A God in Ruins examines war from the perspective of the young men who, in the face of great personal danger, flew many times over enemy territory, bombing its cities.

Much of the appeal of this book lies in the author’s great descriptive abilities. Whether it is fear and camaraderie in the fuselage of a British bomber, contentment in walking through the countryside, the comfort of huddling around the warm stove in a cold kitchen, revulsion at the horror of war casualties, grief for the dead, or annoyance and irritation caused by many people and situations, Atkinson easily puts the reader in the psyche and physical space of her characters.