According to the author, Kate Atkinson, A God in Ruins (2015) is not a sequel. It is instead a companion piece to Life after Life (2013). Both novels take place during World War II, but Life after Life is Ursula’s story during the London blitz whereas A God in Ruins is Teddy’s, a man assigned to drop bombs on people of another nation.
In Author’s Note at the end of the A God in Ruins, Atkinson explains “…nothing … happens during the chapters set during the war in ‘A God in Ruins’ that isn’t in some way based on a real-life incident that I came across in the course of my research (even the most horrific, even the most outlandish), although nearly always modified in some way.” Nevertheless, she does not define the novel as historical fiction, but rather simply fiction “documenting … [not only] the prized virtue of stoicism but a heroism and determination (and modesty) that seem almost alien to us nowadays. … One cannot fail to be moved by the sacrifice of their lives and I suppose that was what first impelled … [her] to write this novel.”
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Atkinson adds “all novels are not only fiction but they are about fiction too. … Every time a writer throws themselves at the first line of a novel they are embarking on an experiment. An adventure.” In other words, Atkinson didn’t set out to write a factual, historical account of the war as fighter pilots experienced it. She set out to explore the character of the men who dropped bombs and survived.
Atkinson also explains what she believes fiction to be: “rich textural (and textual) interplay of plot, character, narrative, theme and image and all the other ingredients that get thrown in the pot….” On the subject of A God in Ruins, she says it is not only fiction but about fiction as well--“…how we must imagine what we cannot know) and the Fall (of Man. From grace).” Indeed, she adds, “War is Man’s greatest fall from grace, of course, especially perhaps when we feel a moral imperative to fight it and find ourselves twisted into ethical knots. We can never doubt (ever) the courage of those men in the Halifaxes and Stirlings and Lancasters but the bombing war was undoubtedly a brutish affair, a crude method employing a blunt weapon, continually hampered by the weather and lack of technology (despite massive advances that war always precipitates). The large gap between what was claimed for the results of the bombing campaign and what was actually achieved was never fully understood at the time, and certainly not, I suspect, by those men flying the bombers.”
Read A God in Ruins, keeping in mind Atkinson’s belief that the novel is not just about Teddy, but also about fiction and the Fall of man from grace. Note references to Utopia and Eden as well as allusions to Paradise Lost and Pilgrim’s Progress, just four references Atkinson lists in “Author’s Note.”
Write your own analysis of what A God in Ruins is about.
Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.