Kate Atkinson’s previous novel was the hugely popular Life after Life, in which Ursula Todd, born into an Edwardian Home Counties idyll called Fox Corner, was given the ability to begin her life again and again. Having it cut short by various lurid means, she was blessed with the luxury of alternative endings. In one of these her younger brother Teddy, her mother’s ‘best boy’, presumed dead after going missing during an RAF bombing mission in 1944, returned home, having been a prisoner of war for two years.
A God in Ruins, a companion piece to Life after Life, extends Teddy’s story until almost the present day, featuring many of the same characters. Although it does not share the previous novel’s bold structural conceit, the novel’s chronology is such that weird compressions of time and bolts of memory occur as they might in a life being lived.
From the moment we meet Teddy as a boy we are, within a few pages, also given a glimpse of his future grandchildren. This prediction of characters’ fates is a device Atkinson has employed since her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, another generational story. There is genuine