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'A God in Ruins,' Kate Atkinson's 'Life After Life' follow-up, receives mostly positive reviews

'God' centers on 'Life' protagonist Ursula's brother Teddy, a World War II veteran. Atkinson's 'Life' was highly acclaimed.

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    'A God in Ruins' is by Kate Atkinson.
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A companion novel to Kate Atkinson’s highly acclaimed 2013 novel “Life After Life” has been released and is garnering mainly positive reviews. 

“A God in Ruins” centers on “Life” protagonist Ursula’s brother and World War II soldier Teddy, who returns from the war and starts a family. The novel follows him, his children, and grandchildren as they live through the twentieth century.

The novel was released on May 5 and was selected as one of the best books of the month by both the Monitor and Amazon. Monitor staff called it “powerful.” The book is also the May selection for NPR's Morning Edition book club.

Recommended: 10 best books of May: the Monitor's picks

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews both gave the novel positive reviews, with PW writing that, “as in ‘Life After Life,’ Atkinson isn’t just telling a story: she’s deconstructing, taking apart the notion of how we believe stories are told. Using narrative tricks that range from the subtlest sleight of hand to direct address, she makes us feel the power of storytelling not as an intellectual conceit, but as a punch in the gut.”

Kirkus Reviews found the book to be “imaginative…. A grown-up, elegant fairy tale, at least of a kind, with a humane vision of people in all their complicated splendor.” 

New York Times critic Janet Maslin was also won over, writing that the book makes the reader recall “what a big, old-school novel can do…. almost inexhaustibly rich in scenes and characters and incidents. It deploys the whole realist bag of tricks, and none of it feels fake or embarrassing. In fact, it’s a masterly and frequently exhilarating performance by a novelist who seems utterly undaunted by the imposing challenges she’s set for herself.”

There is reportedly some sort of twist in the last pages of “God” and NPR critic Tasha Robinson was disappointed by it, though she enjoyed the rest of the book.

“It's a disappointingly familiar literary trope that feels like an afterthought when it emerges abruptly,” she wrote, and she also noted that “scenes … sometimes connect … and sometimes seem disjointed, even random…. But Atkinson connects with [Teddy’s grandchild] Sunny's emotions so closely, and with the specifics of his story so naturally, that even the most seemingly irrelevant byways become entertaining…. [T]he book's strengths come from a scale that dwarfs even Life After Life's seemingly infinite possibilities. Both novels spread across generations, tracking the changes decades bring to societies and individuals. Both delve deeply into the experience of war, the pain of the aftermath, and the way history casually swallows so many deeply personal details.” 

Not every critic, however, compared the novel favorably to its predecessor. Los Angeles Times writer Carolyn Kellogg wrote that it “doesn’t live up to the promise of its predecessor.” 

“Teddy is surrounded by far less appealing characters in ‘A God in Ruins,’” Kellogg wrote. “All of the emotion of the novel has pooled at the end.”

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