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S. J. Parris and Stephanie Merritt

Review < Back

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson - her finest work

Sunday 10th May 2015

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Kate Atkinson’s extraordinary 2013 novel, Life After Life, introduced readers to the Todd family in their Forster-esque home of Fox Corner, and managed to achieve publishing’s holy grail of both literary acclaim and popular appeal. That novel’s heroine, Ursula Todd, is given the chance to live her life again and again in many variations over the first half of the 20th century, the differing outcomes – usually the difference between life and death – contingent on the smallest, most insignificant-seeming choices.

Despite the potentially distancing effects of this artifice, Life After Life was a warm and absorbing family drama played out through two world wars, whose characters were drawn with such care and substance that the reader was often absurdly grateful to have them plucked from a terrible fate and given a second go.

One of those characters was Ursula’s much-loved younger brother Teddy who, in the final narrative, survives to become a bomber pilot in the second world war, is reported missing, presumed dead during a raid in ’43, but is given a reprieve by the author at the 11th hour, when he reappears at the end of the war having spent two years as a POW in Germany...

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