Book Review: Behind the scenes at the museum (Kate Atkinson)
This is the debut novel of a brilliant writer, who went on to produce the superb ‘Life After Life’ and ‘A God in Ruins’. Kate Atkinson brings to life the character of the narrator, Ruby Lennox. We hear her voice in the text from the moment of her conception; the marital bed in a bedroom over the family business in York, a pet shop. George and Bunty, her parents, have conceived other children, and tragically lost one, a daughter, who at first is not named. There are many tragedies to follow.
We hear Ruby’s philosophy of life as she battles with parents who fail to provide the love she craves. Ruby chronicles in some detail the history of her unusual family; the trials and affairs, rumours and innuendo that take in two world wars and many family skirmishes; even a wedding brawl. We also learn much about the geography and history of Ruby’s home town, the City of York.
Ruby eventually discovers her roots, and disparate family come together later in her life to witness the eventual demise of her mother. Bunty, for her part, is central to Ruby’s life. Though seemingly forgetting that she has children, on occasions, she somehow holds together a family. Miserable, at times, at the dinner table; happy to be on holiday in Whitby, even if a ‘temporary Mom’ turned out to be one of George’s ‘lady friends’. We discover why Ruby appears not to be Bunty’s favourite child, and then Ruby can piece together her own identity from a past that was like a jigsaw with crucial pieces missing.
‘Behind the scenes at the museum’ is a novel that does not feel like a debut. Kate demonstrates not only a superb grasp of the English language, but also maturity and an understanding of people and family life. The book is funny, tragic, entertaining and educational. You will like Ruby Lennox, and by the end you will know her well.