Kate Atkinson’s follow-up to her stupendous Life After Life is deeply satisfying and very pleasing. A God In Ruins focuses on Teddy, the brother of Ursula who is the reincarnating heroine of Life After Life. In that book he is the reason she ends up making the decisions she does – it is well worth reading it before the second, if you haven’t already – I am going to avoid spoilers. We are very lucky to have a writer like Kate Atkinson.
Teddy lives just his one life, which Ursula flits in and out of, also seemingly living her one life but the two have odd moments, snippets of conversation where Ursula in particular seems to be shadowing her experiences in Life After Life. This is sort of lovely, like a wry wink at the reader, and it does make you smile. Unlike Teddy’s awful daughter, who seems badly damaged and seems to want to damage badly all those about her. Her children, Teddy’s grandchildren, are the ones he connects with, as he bobs along on the various currents of the twentieth century.
Teddy’s big moment was as a bomber pilot in the Second World War, a job where only 10% of those who started survived past 1945. He is the captain of his small, fragile craft, carrying gunners, navigators and bombers. Their care for each other, their seize-the-day desperation of those who are likely about to die contrasts with their ability to do their job, to carpet bomb Dresden and Hamburg, creating engulfing fire storms, which they cannot see through the billowing smoke and which they never talk about again.