A God in Ruins

A God in RuinsA God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Series: Todd Family
Genres: Historical, Literary
Published by Little Brown & Co on May 5, 2015
Pages: 480

 

WWII RAF bomber pilot, Teddy Todd, doesn’t believe there will be an afterwards, but if there is, he decides to be a good man and kind to everyone. As the war comes to an end and much to his surprise, he does beat the odds and survive. But how does one move forward in an afterwards that is never supposed to be? Before the war, everyone loved Teddy. He was just that kind of guy, polite, respectful, generous. Postwar, he is still a nice guy that everyone loves, but he is also a changed man. True to his internal promise, Teddy does live a good life and he is kind to everyone. But even as he progresses through life, he is still haunted by a past that he can never unlive and a future that was never meant to be. In an oftentimes bittersweet story, A God in Ruins is a highly thought-provoking novel featuring a humble survivor from one of the history’s darkest times.

In an oftentimes bittersweet story, A God in Ruins is a highly thought-provoking novel featuring a humble survivor from one of the history’s darkest times.

A God in Ruins is marketed as a companion book to Life After Life, and this is in fact, an excellent description. This story is not a sequel, but rather runs concurrent with Life After Life. While each book is a complete story by itself, they very much compliment and enhance each other while presenting a much fuller picture of WWII England, the fighters, the survivors, and the casualties. Remarkably, these books can be read in either order, with really nothing being spoiled. So while they’re closely related, they’re separated in a way few books in a series achieve.

I do not feel like I am smart enough to truly get Life After Life. It’s a brilliant book, but I’m not a deep enough thinker to really get it. While A God in Ruins presents a similar challenge, it does so in a different way. This is a very emotional book, which is accomplished primarily through the main character, Teddy. Teddy grabs the reader’s heart and forces them to care deeply about him. He’s this noble, stoic hero—a dying breed. He has remarkable patience and compassion, but is also quite flawed. He’s a rare character in reality and an even more rare character in fiction. He’s loveable and for the few days I spent reading his story, he stayed in my mind even when the book was not in my hand.

Teddy Todd is loveable and for the few days I spent reading his story, he stayed in my mind even when the book was not in my hand.

A God in Ruins is a very bittersweet book. On the one hand the reader gets to spend time with this incredible character that lives an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner. But as with all life, there is death and destruction and disasters along the way. Because the reader really cares for Teddy and is fully invested in his life, they’re also fully invested in his war and the devastation that brings. I was vaguely familiar with the bombing raids on Germany. Seeing this part of the war through Teddy’s eyes certainly brings some unique hindsight to this part of history. Great fiction can do this and Kate is quite effective at providing this new perspective without injecting obvious bias.

It was nice to revisit the Todd family that now feels so very familiar. They’re wonderfully dysfunctional in a charming, annoying, and yet intriguing way. As the anchor of the Todd family, I am certainly glad that Teddy was given his own book. While I enjoyed Ursula’s story in Life After Life and the intellectual challenge it presented, I liked Teddy’s character better and was more in tune with the emotional ups and downs of A God in Ruins.

Teddy is brilliant and I absolutely adore his character.

While overall I love this story, there are parts I hate. As with life, things don’t always follow a predictable path. Sometimes a path we want is different than the one that occurs. There are times when this happens in A God in Ruins. My loathing of some storylines is simply a reflection of a well-written story in which I was fully engaged. But throughout the whole story, one thing remains constant—Teddy is brilliant and I absolutely adore his character.

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