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on October 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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TOP 100 REVIEWERon August 1, 2007
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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on March 14, 1999
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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on March 8, 2014
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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on May 18, 2003
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. Each chapter that takes place in the present generation of the Lennox family mentions an "exhibit" item from the "Lennox family museum." These are listed as footnotes. However, the footnote takes you to the next chapter where you learn a bit of Lennox family history surrounding the exhibit item. For example, the pink daisy-shaped button (the above Exhibit A) popped off of Alice Barker's dress only a few days before she "died giving birth" to Ruby's grandmother. It was later found and kept in a button box for years before Ruby's sister found it.
A lot of family secrets are bound up in the exhibits of the "Lennox family museum". One in particular deals with the death of Ruby's mysteriously unmentioned sister. Another deals with the father of an unmarried family member's child. Still another deals with the identity of the mysterious late-night phone caller that never says a word. Every family has its secrets and the author is careful not to give enough hints to give away the family secrets until the end of the book.
I simply loved this book. A fellow book-lover suggested that I read it. I was not disappointed. The characters were colorful and the author keeps up a certain level of suspense throughout the novel. I was surprised to learn that this is the author's first novel since it is written in such an original format. And it makes me wonder what "exhibits" belong to my own family's "museum".
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on December 30, 2002
I bought this book about 3 ½ 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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon October 15, 2002
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. Voted a Whitbread Book of the Year when published in 1995 this extraordinarily entertaining novel was the first novel by Kate Atkinson and she surely knows her stuff. Not only is the writing of the first caliber, but the technique of storytelling is invigorating and fun and warm and tragic and in short, about as fine a coming of age novel as anyone has written.
Ruby Lennox narrates this delectable tale of her life in a dysfunctional geneology from the point of her conception ( thoroughly entertaining view of life from within the uterus) through her childhood and young adulthood up to the age of 41. Atkinson divides her book into Chapters and Footnotes: the Chapters are the chronological tale of the wonderfully crazy Ruby and her sisters and bizarre mother and father and the Footnotes after each chapter explore the history of her English family for the past century. This affords the reader with a history and an interpretation of that history by wily little girl who is wise beyond her antics. Ruby knows there must be a Lost Property Cupboard (her theory of the afterlife) 'where (when we die) all things we have ever lost have been kept for us - every button, every tooth..library books, all the cats that never came back...tempers and patience...meaning and innocence..dreams we forgot on waking, nestling against the days lost to melancholy thoughts....' That is just a sample of the beauty of Atkinson's writing gifts.
The world finally focuses for Ruby but to tell how would alter the joy of discovery this wonderful little character. 'I'm in another country, the one called home. I am alive. I am a precious jewel. I am a drop of blood. I am Ruby Lennox.' This is some of the best writing you'll find. After you've spent a rewarding time reading it, share it with someone you love. Again, Thank you Anya!
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on October 2, 2002
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?
"For a while Nel feared the baby would be born with thick black hair". This would have indicated that Jack was the Father.
"but it seemed so much worse somehow when he turned out to have golden curls like an angel and eyes the colour of forget-me -nots" Did this mean that Albert, Lil's brother was the Father?
It was not until near the end that Lil suggested to her granddaughter-in-law that she name the child after Edmond's Father. The Baby was subsequently called Jack.
Some of our group are convinced that Jack was Edmond's Father.
Others are convinced that Albert was the Father because of Edmond's golden girls, not black hair.
We would all be grateful if someone could reply to this query with a definitive answer.
Looking forward to some more Kate Atkinson intrigue and literary pleasures
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on April 29, 2002
I could just kick myself for letting this book sit on my shelf for as long as it did before I picked it up to read. Behind the Scenes at the Museum has all the makings of a phenomenal book -- a little bit of mystery, humor, intriguing characters, and an enjoyable writing style. The novel is, in theory, a catalog of the life of Ruby Lennox from birth to middle age, but Ms. Atkinson manages to include the history of Ruby's mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother through her clever "footnotes." I would disagree with those reviewers who refer to the book as being about a "dysfunctional family"; it's more of a chronicle of four generations of women, all distinct entities who struggle with similar problems of family and self. Behind the Scenes at the Museum examines what it means to be a mother, a daughter, and a sister, as well as leading the reader through half of the 20th century. I can't wait to get my hands on more books by Ms. Atkinson -- I've been recommending this one to everyone! It's a pure pleasure to read.
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on February 21, 2002
In an original novel about fictional Ruby Lennox that spans from her conception to adulthoood, Atkinson recounts family life in 1950's England. She brilliantly weaves family history as far back as 1915 into the novel through the use of footnotes.
Atkinson cleverly interjects the Lennox families history through the vignettes of past relatives featured in the footnotes that alternate with the narrative chapters. Altough at times somewhat confusing chronologicllay, it is enjoyable to read through these other people's voices. Through these stories the reader sees how descendents past actions have a direct influence on the present day. It is amazng that each of these footnotes so beautifully ties to the story and gradually unfolds to the reader as it concludes.
Atkinson uses cupboards as a metaphor to represent one's collective memory as well as the character Ruby's memory. It is particularly effective as Ruby searches her memory for the details of a traumatic event that changes her life.
At times exhilarating and at times profoundly sad, this novel of ordinary family life will touch everyone. We all have a past history that impacts us in a way we may not be aware of and Kate Atkinson has brilliantly woven this into a story that moves us.
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