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Behind the Scenes at the Museum: A Novel [Paperback]

Kate Atkinson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 21 2007
A deeply moving family story of happiness and heartbreak, Behind the Scenes at the Museum is bestselling author Kate Atkinson's award-winning literary debut.  

National Bestseller
Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year

Ruby Lennox begins narrating her life at the moment of conception, and from there takes us on a whirlwind tour of the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of an English girl determined to learn about her family and its secrets.  Kate Atkinson’s first novel is “a multigenerational tale of a spectacularly dysfunctional Yorkshire family and one of the funniest works of fiction to come out of Britain in years” (The New York Times Book Review).

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From Amazon

"I exist!" exclaims Ruby Lennox upon her conception in 1951, setting the tone for this humorous and poignant first novel in which Ruby at once celebrates and mercilessly skewers her middle-class English family. Peppered with tales of flawed family traits passed on from previous generations, Ruby's narrative examines the lives in her disjointed clan, which revolve around the family pet shop. But beneath the antics of her philandering father, her intensely irritable mother, her overly emotional sisters, and a gaggle of eccentric relatives are darker secrets--including an odd "feeling of something long forgotten"--that will haunt Ruby for the rest of her life. Kate Atkinson earned a Whitbread Prize in 1995 for this fine first effort. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The narrator's insistent voice and breezy delivery animates this enchanting first novel by a British writer who won one of the 1993 Ian St. James Awards for short stories. Ruby Lennox is a quirky, complex character who relates the events of her life and those of her dysfunctional family with equal parts humor, fervor and candor-starting with her moment of conception in York, England, in 1959: "I exist!" Ruby then describes the family she is to join. Her parents own a pet shop; her mother, Bunty, bitterly rues having married her philandering husband, George, and daydreams about what her life might have been. Ruby has two older sisters, willful Gillian and melancholy Patricia. Through its ambitious structure, the novel also charts five generations and more than a century of Ruby's family history, as reported in "footnotes" that follow relevant chapters. (For example, a passage about a pink glass button reveals the story of its original owner, Ruby's great-grandmother Alice, who will abandon her young family and run off with a French magician.) Ruby's richly imagined account includes both the details of daily life and the several tragic events that punctuate the family's mundane existence. Though the "footnote" entries are not quite as gripping as those rendered in Ruby's richly vernacular, energetic recitation, Atkinson's ebullient narrative style captures the troubled Lennox family with wit and poignant accuracy.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars not for me Aug. 1 2007
By Toni Osborne TOP 100 REVIEWER
Ruby Lennox narrates her own life story from the moment of conception. She lives with her family above their pet store in York in the 50's. She reminisces about endless housework, weddings and funerals, and reveals long hidden family secrets. The narration is accompanied by many threads (footnotes) that run through four generations (great-grandmother, grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins) and their struggles through the 19th century and the two World Wars that followed

This novel is extremely complex, very multi layered; you go back and forth through the years. You can see a character dying in one chapter only to reappear in the next one; it tends to be confusing at times. This book left me with a strange feeling and it really didn't suit my type of reading. On this I prefer leaving the readers to their individual preferences.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Why all the fuss???? July 17 1999
By A Customer
If you will allow a voice of dissent here, I almost gave up on this book several times but had heard so much about it, I kept plodding, in the hope it would get better. It didn't. It's badly structured, full of grammatical errors, has too many irrelevant characters and a fairly uninteresting plot. It seems that Atkinson had two ideas- a historical novel and a 20th century soap opera, neither of which was worthy of a full novel, so she threw them in together and came up with this. The characters were too thinly drawn for me to care about and the end of the book suddenly introduces new characters and story lines when it should be drawing to a close. A good editor would have helped - a little. If you really want to read a quality Brtish woman writer, try Rose Tremain- or anyone!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Although I thoroughly enjoyed the story and her dark humor, Atkinson's style of writing with continual flash backs, fast forwards, the jumps to present time was like wandering through a maze. Some characters appeared early on and were not mentioned again until midway through the book leaving the reader to wonder "who are these people".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family Secrets Oct. 12 2000
A charming book that begins with the conception of Ruby Lennox (told in her own voice) and moves through her sometimes heartbreaking life. Significant capsules of the lives of women who influence her life (her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother) are woven in.
This is a British novel, told in a British voice that is at times difficult to understand (not knowing the jargon and the "mixed up" quotation marks) that moves from turn of the century (20th) through two World Wars to the 60s and then present day.
There is a secret in Ruby's family--one involving Ruby, but kept from her. There are hints from cousins, overheard remarks from aunties, but Ruby dismisses then as "confusion"--people mixing up the events of her family history. But following a bitter accusation, she searches for the shoeless shoebox in her mother's closet, she knows she has confirmation of an evil deed.
When the secret is revealed, she confronts her dying mother: why was it never spoken of? Ruby then learns of her mother's sorrow and protective love.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The brilliant story of a family unhinged March 23 2004
In this book, the fictional Ruby Lennox reflects on her childhood and her family - her bizarre parents and strange, self-absorbed sisters, and ofcourse the small (and large) events that punctuate their lives. I found this dysfunctional family, who didn't seem to want to be a family (but were forced to anyway), really fascinating.
Reading this book, it isn't until the end that you realise what Ruby finally realises: that the individuals in families don't have to get along, they don't have to like eachother, they don't even have to take the same paths in life. But they will always have shared experiences (even if they had no choice in the matter), and somehow this is an indelible bond.
The anecdotes in the book are relayed with genuine feeling - as another reader has said, "tragi-comical" in their subject matter. The characters are brilliantly portrayed - amusing, quirky, selfish people who somehow still manage to have a bond with eachother (though they scarcely realise it). And the reflection on the meaning of family is subtle, not sickening and obvious.
Put simply, this is a moving, and yet highly entertaining book. I would recommend it to anyone that wants more from fiction than a fast-paced, light read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A unique voice and May 26 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Some lovely, dark humour that actually made me laugh out loud. Given the fact that unfinished Kindle editions do not usually "call" to the reader in the way that an unfinished print novel, lying half-open does, it still held my interest and I kept on reading 'til the end. But the long genealogy of characters was confusing and led me to the realization that her characterizations were somewhat superficial and, other than those of the nuclear family, not distinctive enough. So, a fun, entertaining read, but not great literature.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Far too much work expected of the reader. March 8 2014
By cleo
The protagonist’s story, Ruby Lennox, starts at conception and finishes in her senior years. Her family history is explored in snippets back to her great-grandmother. The format alternates between her life and her family’s history. Ruby’s life is followed more or less chronologically, but her family history bounces between characters and time periods. The attempt at a multi-layered story intertwining her family history with world history is ambitious but not very successful. Each generation is filled with multiple characters and while it is intriguing to see them die in one segment only to reappear for a more fully examined description of their character, their relationships with other characters and how their behavior impacts future generations, it is tiresome to have to connect the out of order chapters to piece together a full picture of the extended family. My overwhelming feeling about the book was that it was very cluttered and I felt as if I was being buffeted about on a rocky boat.

The writing style is engaging and the novel has its charming, funny, moving and suspenseful moments but I found that the alternating format on top of the non-linear historical progression for Ruby’s family history made it more effort than it was worth to try to stay engaged in the story. Also, too many of the story lines are silly or improbable. I can tolerate a few jaw dropping revelations, but the number of surprises is just too many to be believable even in this multi-generational story. Some may find that a creative approach, I think it demonstrates a lack of creativity when a writer has to repeatedly resort to scandal or tragedy to move the story along. While not a saga in terms of the length, a genealogy tree should have been available for the reader to keep track of the generations. If you decide to read this, do it on an iPad so you can easily locate a previous passage that will help you make sense of a new revelation much later in the book.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Love her writing and this novel did not disappoint
Love her writing and this novel did not disappoint. Having visited York & area a few years back made it even more interesting. Plan to keep reading more of her works.
Published 7 days ago by Deborah Frankland
5.0 out of 5 stars every word, every page was a joy
I've enjoyed every one of Kate's novels, with this one the last I ended up reading. The novel was a great read and thought provoking. I highly recommend.
Published 12 months ago by kaptaink
5.0 out of 5 stars What a delightful book!
I liked this book so much I delayed reading the last five pages because I didn't want it to end! Though I couldn't always follow the backstory (the author uses chapters called... Read more
Published on Feb. 10 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars A Worthy Addition to the Empire of Chick Literature.
Kate Atkinson's first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, is a book which every piece of "chick literature" should be written like. Read more
Published on Dec 3 2003 by Nobody!
5.0 out of 5 stars Exhibit A: Family Secrets
When you see the title of this book, you immediately come to the conclusion that this book must be about a little girl who's family owns a museum. Read more
Published on May 18 2003 by paisleymonsoon
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely book!
Every now and then one comes across a book that is so brilliant that you want to recommend it to everyone you know. Behind the Scenes at the Museum is one of those books. Read more
Published on April 29 2003 by M. M. MacTier
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!
I bought this book about 3  years ago, then let it sit on my bookshelf collecting dust. This year I have made an attempt to read as many "old" books as possible and... Read more
Published on Dec 30 2002 by Dianna Setterfield
5.0 out of 5 stars The real imaginary world of Ruby Lennox
Friends sharing books they love usually means you're in for a treat. Thanks, Anya! BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE MUSEUM is a total triumph of a book. Read more
Published on Oct. 15 2002 by Grady Harp
5.0 out of 5 stars Curious
Yes, our Book Discussion Group all loved and were amazed by this fascinating and clever novel.
However, there was debate about who was the Father of Lil's son, Edmond? Read more
Published on Oct. 3 2002 by Isabel Rush
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