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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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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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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Exhibit A: Family Secrets May 18 2003
By A.B.
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.
This museum turns out to be just like the museum that YOUR OWN family owns.
Exhibits at the "Lennox family museum" include:
A. A pink, daisy-shaped, glass button
B. A lucky rabbit's foot
C. A George VI coronation teaspoon
D. A bright, artificial smile
E. Bunty's unbearably sad childhood
F. Rabbit-shaped clouds hanging in the sky like zepplins
G. "Mind your boots, Lily"
H. A plane in a death spin
I. Your sister says not to worry
J. The silver locket
K. Thinking about home
Strange exhibits for a museum, don't you think?
These "exhibits" are simply items and memories belonging to several generations of the Lennox family. Each "exhibit" carries with it a history and a memory that the casual onlooker cannot fathom. Some people, like Ruby Lennox, feel that "the past is what you leave behind in life". However, others, like Patricia Lennox, feel that "the past is what you take with you". You decide. Can you really understand the past by simply viewing an object or are most museums (the real type and the kind you might have in your home) full of objects that are unable to tell their stories without an all-knowing narrator?
This book follows the life of Ruby Lennox from conception onward: "I exist! I am conceived to the chimes of midnight on the mantelpiece in the room across the hall." From this intriguing beginning, the book draws you in. You immediately fall in love with Ruby, her flustered mother Bunty, and her quirky English family.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful! Dec 30 2002
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 decided finally to read Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I must say, I can't think of a better book to end 2002.
There are many things that make this book wonderful. The story, the style of the story, the exquisite writing...all of it is fantastic! It's not often you find an author's debut work worthy of awards, but Behind the Scenes at the Museum is definitely one of them. It is truly an astonishing piece of literature. Kate Atkinson's writing is finely honed, with clear, crisp words that flow like silk. This is the way I like my books!
The story is very addictive. If you are the type of reader that enjoys following a character from birth -- literally from the moment of conception -- until adulthood, then Behind the Scenes will please you immeasurably. But more than that, this novel also delves into the main character's history before she was born. We are privy to the lives of three generations of family and all their secrets and surprises.
I highly recommend this novel. Behind the Scenes at the Museum is just that -- a behind the scenes look into the life of Ruby Lennox and her family. A real slice-of-life novel complete with comedy, sadness, and some really awesome plot twists. A great engaging book and one that will stay with me for a long, long time.
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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 4 months ago by Deborah Frankland
4.0 out of 5 stars A unique voice and
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... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Ireaditall
3.0 out of 5 stars Far too much work expected of the reader.
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. Read more
Published 8 months ago by cleo
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 16 months ago by kaptaink
5.0 out of 5 stars The brilliant story of a family unhinged
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... Read more
Published on March 23 2004 by S. Becker
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 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 28 2003 by M. M. MacTier
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. 2 2002 by Isabel Rush
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