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An Evening with Alastair Sawday

20th October, 2021, Steyning Cricket Club

God in Ruins

a god in ruins Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life (which won the Costa book award in 2013) introduced readers to the Todd family of Fox Corner and told the multiple stories of Ursula, as she died, or not, countless times. It was a dazzling, inventive book that probed at the dark heart of the Second World War and its effect on those who died and those who survived. A God in Ruins (this year’s Costa winner) is a ‘‘companion’ piece rather than a sequel’ according to Atkinson and takes up the story of Ursula’s younger brother Teddy, the golden boy, their mother’s favourite, the wartime hero who died returning from a bombing raid in Life After Life. He gets another chance here, a wife, a daughter, grandchildren, an ignominious end in a nursing home – the ‘afterwards’ he never thought to have. Although the narrative skips back and forth through time, it is Teddy’s war that is the heart of the book, and his heart remains inside a Halifax bomber. The effect the war had on him and therefore on his monstrous (but amusing) daughter Viola and her own children is played out in subtle, poignant and surprising ways.
From her earliest work Atkinson displayed an exuberant delight in the stuff of storytelling, and in A God in Ruins, as well as its predecessor plays with form in a masterly way with serious intent and to great effect. This is a wonderful, heart-breaking book about life, family, war and its effects on a generation and the lives of those who followed.