A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson


A God in Ruins is about identity, dutiful love, and above all, self sacrifice. This book, a companion to Life After Life, follows mostly Edward Beresford “Teddy” Todd before and after his Second World War experiences.

At first I was irritated with what seemed like a propensity to live a life of quiet desperation, in an unfulfilling marriage with an exasperating child. I realized that I was looking at Teddy’s life through the lens of the present, where flaky is the norm and commitment is rare.

Teddy’s generation had no choice — his own identity is indelibly scorched in the crucible of the war. Defying death against nearly impossible odds at the controls of a Halifax bomber is the only time he feels truly alive, yet this imbues him with a duty-bound stoicism. His life is a series of sacrifices; first for the war effort, then for his wife, and finally his grandchildren. (Teddy is the only steadying force they have in their lives and they love him for it.)

I enjoyed this book. It’s layered, nuanced, and complex. There’s plenty to explore here — it’s meaty with references to poetry that I have to admit were somewhat lost on me. Duty, honor, and love are compelling themes and it got me thinking about what sort of life is a good life — what it is that etches your life with meaning? Is forsaking your own happiness and well being for country, spouse, children, and grandchildren the key to a life well lived? For Teddy, it seems so — if only for the reason that a whole life can be erased in the instant.

He had believed once that he would be framed by the architecture of the war, but now he realized, he had been erased by it.
–A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

April — May, 2016

Published by

Krista Stevens

I'm a runner, reader, writer, and editor.

12 thoughts on “A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson”

  1. Wow. Great review. I very recently read ‘Life after Life’ by Kate Atkinson after accidentally stumbling upon her book at the college library. Having never heard of the author before, I was stunned by it’s concept and I had no idea she would be carrying forward one of its characters to another book. Great review. Looking forward to reading it myself.

    1. I really enjoyed Life After Life and I hope you enjoy A God in Ruins. Interestingly, after the book, Kate Atkinson states that A God in Ruins is really just another of Ursula’s lives told via Teddy, though I felt the story was wholly Teddy’s. Curious to know what you think once you read the book.

  2. A concise but eloquent review. This, certainly, is worth pondering for me, too: “Duty, honor, and love are compelling themes and it got me thinking about what sort of life is a good life — what it is that etches your life with meaning? “

  3. Kirsty, your review makes me want to read both books which I have been eyeing up for a while. I read K. Atkinson’s crime trilogy and a biography but these are a slight shit of the genre – and something I am interested in – the identity through gee rations. World War is a big denominator of identities in Eastern Europe where I come from. Thank you for yours nudge to read it.

    1. I totally felt the same — I enjoyed Life After Life more. Kind of reminds me of reading Maria Doria Russel’s The Sparrow and its sequel, Children of God. The Sparrow is one of my favorite books (fantastic character development) though CoG left me wanting a bit — still a great book, but not as amazing in my view.

  4. Sounds interesting. It sounds like he must have recognized that the people who will remember you when you are gone is your family and friends, not what you do, but how you interact. I will look to read it in the future. Thanks for the review.

  5. I had read ‘life after life’ and cant wait now to discover ‘a god in ruins’, so it was great to find your review 🙂 PedroL

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