on February 23, 2000
Enjoy bites of the life of Ruby Lennox and some of her more colourful relatives.
Both flippantly realistic and romantically idealised, the various competing agendas of the stories, the telling of the stories, the imaginings of the stories, can seem like a confused tumble of impressions, ideas and certainty (all the more suspect because it seems so certain - and how can Ruby know?)
The effect: 1) You can read it and be superficially entertained. 2) You can start to question the reliability of the narrator Ruby (the book I think, is an attempt at self-reflexivity). 3) You can start questioning not only the narrator Ruby, but that of any story told. 4) You can reflect on yourself and the way memory and truth (and untruth) collide, mesh, gel, repel. 5) Also, as an added bonus, it tests what a "good" reader you are - did you get all the clues, did you see that, Ruby TOLD you, why didn't you get it? Perhaps a comment on reading as a whole?
Really a mind bending experience.
on March 20, 1998
I discovered Kate Atkinson through her second novel, _Human Croquet_. I quite enjoyed it, but it was my 13-yr-old daughter who liked it so much that she later picked up Atkinson's debut novel about Ruby Lennox and her far-flung family. My kid has solid instincts!
Both novels explore dysfunctional families through the eyes of the children stranded in those families. Both narratives are marked by sudden chronological shifts and reveal information that the narrators realistically don't have access to; through this device Atkinson raises interesting questions about the nature of memory, of time, of family itself.
I think _Behind the Scenes... is the better book. Certainly it is more consistent in tone, very funny, but with the humor of a survivor, looking back over years of neglect, emotional abuse, deceit, outright tragedy, and, above all, years of (almost) unremitting bleakness. The characters are well drawn, and even the most repugnant of them is worthy of some sympathy. That Atkinson can relate all this and make it so incredibly readable is a testament to her talent. Although I occasionally found her sentence structure irksome, that is a minor quibble, especially when one considers the images she is able to create in just a few words, as when Ruby is trying to reconcile her idea of what love is with the "autistic motherhood" of Bunty. Ruby has been talking about her mother off and on for several hundred pages, but this phrase, in the last few pages of the novel, sums up perfectly that part of Bunty's character that was most important to Ruby.
A good read; I recommend it.
on May 14, 2002
This is a book that I bought on the basis of the reviews I read. Actually, if it had not been for the great reviews,I probably would not have kept reading the book. I'm very glad I did.
It is the story of Ruby Lennox, from conception in 1952 through her 40th year. Through footnotes in the form of chapters she takes you back to the turn of the century and the lives of her maternal family. Her grat-grandmother, Alice, grandmother, Nell, mother, Bunty and herself. Then there are all the sisters, cousins, aunts uncles, father and so on. There is a lot of story here.
It is quite rewarding to read and funny, yet as the story moves on it is quite sad and disturbing. The author has a way of pulling you in to the life of Ruby Lennox. You won't be disappointed. Give this book a chance. It was great!!!!
The only complaint I have is that I wish there had been a family tree to refer to at the beginning of the book. It became confusing keeping track of everyone.
on September 20, 1999
I know that some readers found it hard to jump between the different stories - but I loved it and think it was what kept me hooked. I love the theme of intergenerational emotions and events repeating themselves and the possibility of inheriting your destiny from your forebears. Having studied my family tree I often wonder about old ancestors long dead and what their hopes and dreams and loves were.
I found the portrayal of George and Bunty's marriage very real and though I finished the book many months ago can recall with clarity Patricia's adolescent angst. It was with real sadness that I read about Ruby's eventual breakdown(?). She seemd to feel so unloved and with a huge lump in my throat, I wished that I could reach into the story and hug her.
I also enjoyed the setting of the story in York, which now makes me want to visit it. Overall a very honest and clever story. I will now read Human Croquet and hope that Atkinson writes more.
on February 1, 1999
I must disagree with some of the reviewers - I think this was a humorous book, of course with strong serious elements, but enjoyable and light-minded to the end. All the hard times these people had to suffer never made them give up. I've read both of Atkinson's novels now - I started with Human Croquet - and I must say I liked this one better. In this novel the atmosphere never cracks, not even once, whereas Human Croquet's ending was a disappointment.
And Ruby Lennox certainly is a charming narrator for this story - it's very easy to, let's say, fall in love with her. This novel has a fair amount of magic, but it's very realistic in a typical English way. The main reason I'm nor giving it 5 stars is the misery of family life Atkinson describes. There are happy people out there too, and I just wonder why doesn't anyone ever write of them.
on October 21, 1998
This book brings home the fact that my parents and grandparents were once young and faced decisions and problems just like I do now. It's sometimes hard to think of your elders as people with a past -- a past that led to you. I especially liked the parts about the generation that lived during WWI -- the chapter on the war was quite, quite good. I was disappointed by the last few chapters. It felt very rushed, like the author was trying to make a deadline. When I got to the chapter about Pearl, I almost gave up as that whole incident was implausible, compared to the rest of the book. Otherwise, it was a complex story told well. Some great characters (Bunty, Patricia, Gillian, Ruby) and some not so well developed but enjoyable nonetheless. I also like the chapter layout -- the diversity kept up the interest.
on July 29, 2000
Reading this book makes you think, thank goodness I haven't been born into Ruby's family! The story is loaded with energy and imagination: Starting with Ruby's description of her own conception in the early 1950's and ending in the present, with chapter-long footnotes alternating with Ruby's account flashing back to the tragic-comic catastrophes haunting her family since WW1.
It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you gape, it NEVER bores you. The characters are so alive (and some of them are truly repugnant!), they threaten to jump out of the pages.
You have to read the book quickly or you stand no chance remembering all these brothers, uncles, sister, aunts and where and when and how they died (almost all of them do!)
Enjoy and hopefully Human Croquet will be just as good!
on April 7, 2002
This is a witty, poignant, well written look into yet another generationally dysfunctional family. It's a wonder children ever grow up to be "normal" if people's lives mirror so many of the novels I've read lately(including this one). Ruby and her sisters try to make the most of their indifferent upbringing. This novel has a great deal of humor and a profound sense of sadness and loss on many levels. If you enjoy British authors and dysfunctional (albeit humorous) family scenarios, you will enjoy this novel. My only negative comment (if you could call it that), is that there are an awful lot of characters in this story, and you may often find yourself unable to keep track of who's related to who, who's sleeping with who, and who's fathered who's baby!
on July 25, 1998
I chose this book for our book club based upon reader's reviews. While I enjoyed the book I didn't find any of the humor referenced in the reviews. Instead the summation of the book's tone is in one of the final chapters defining Bunty's version of love and mothering as autistic - an autism we readers have keenly witnessed through all the pages. This is a sharp, realistic read with no veneer. I felt so much sadness for Ruby and wished for more pages of exultation at the novel's end to celebrate her knowledge that she is "Ruby Lennox, a precious jewel."
For a humorous, more joyful exploration of dysfunctional families and the imprint they make on lives I recommend The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
on September 30, 1999
There's supposed to be a deep-dark secret in Ruby's family, but the fact is that you will become so engrossed in this family, and their ancestors, that when the secret is revealed, it won't matter that much. So, if you believe that the discovery of this "secret" is the plot of the book, than the book is plotless - but if you believe that this is a historical account of a fictitious (but stunningly detailed) family in York, then it's a marvelous read and one that is hard to put down.