Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life” and “A God in Ruins”

Quickly – and then I’ll go back to doing what I’m supposed to be doing, which is nothing, or more specifically – resting. But resting, of course, means reading, and some wonderful books have kept me company in these past weeks.

A dear friend says she retreats to “things English” in times needing comfort, and I agree. I never tire of things being made better by cups of tea and a sense of humor.

Somehow I’ve missed Kate Atkinson’s books, but I’m catching up. “Life After Life” amazed me. Britain – beginning in 1910, through the period between the wars, to the Blitz.

A family home, Fox Corner, provides touchstone as the years go by – and the Todd family, matriarch Sylvie, four children, Maurice, Pamela, Ursula, and Teddy, and their dearly loved father named Hugh. (Are all solid, kind, slightly befuddled men in England named Hugh? The Reverend Seal I lived with was Hugh, and Hugh Crawley, of course.)

The central character, Ursula, repeatedly dies and reappears in another iteration. Dying and starting over, each time slightly or dramatically different. That doesn’t sound like it would work, but it does – and often to the reader’s relief. They can’t be real, these different possibilities, but Atkinson makes them seem perfectly plausible.

In “A God in Ruins,” Atkinson continues Ursula’s brother’s Teddy story – coming into the present. He’s a beloved-by-all character and a fighter pilot. Atkinson takes you into those little planes where so many died while dropping death.

I loved the literary references in thoughts or speech, like the character who realizes she’s “married a Casaubon,” and the oft-repeated meadow description that haunts the characters and reader: “Flax and larkspur, corn poppies, red campion and oxeye daisies.”

I came away having learned a perfect expression, “needs must.” It means getting on in that very British way with an unpleasant task because it must be done – crawl into a bombed building, fly the thirtieth mission: “needs must.”

Such wonderful books.


A Note: (Thank you to all who wrote messages, called, or emailed after the last post – I appreciated each and every one of your kind words. I wish I could offer you  a cup of friendship tea! xox)

V&A 11:2 Teapot from Bristol copy

8 thoughts on “Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life” and “A God in Ruins”

  1. And I will add Kate Atkinson’s books to my list. Thanks, Katy, and I’m happy that you’re resting. It’s hard, though, isn’t it?  ~Jane

  2. I own these books and am looking forward to reading them. I’m glad you liked them so much. And I’m glad you’re resting!

  3. Such a pretty teapot. And I am with you about being comforted when reading books where tea is often the solution to a sticky situation. I have somehow avoided “Life after Life,” not knowing if the premise would really work, but after your recommendation I will give it a try. Have some tea out of a flowered teacup and know that we are all cheering you on to wellness. xoxo

  4. I love HUMAN CROQUET but haven’t read these two. On the list . . . I too turn to English authors for comfort — Wodehouse, E.F.Benson, Thirkell, Pym, Elizabeth Goudge, Rosamund Pilcher . . . I hope very much that you are mending, Katy dear!

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