Friday, 3 April 2009

K is for Kate Atkinson

My ‘K’ is Kate Atkinson and her book, “Behind the Scenes at the Museum”. I hadn’t heard about her before a friend suggested it to me after I’d told her the Book Challenge story. That’s one of the best things about the Book Challenge - people are generally interested and more than happy to provide suggestions for the tricky names. At the moment, I’m trying not to think about the surname ‘X’. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know. It is nearly a year away though, so I’m not going to worry about it now.

So. “Behind the Scenes at the Museum”. It begins with Ruby Lennox’s conception, and unravels time and memory by tracing the matriarchial line through Ruby, to her mother Bunty, to her mother Nell, to her mother Alice. Surrounding them are the other women and menfolk which make up the family – vivid pictures of boys going to war (and not coming back), creepy identical twins and all the levels of relationships between unhappy and ecstatic.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the story, as usual, but if I were to describe it it would be bleak and depressing. It runs through both world wars and numerous family disasters. Ruby advises quite near the beginning that family members are prone to getting run over or blown up. I think this device keeps the story from getting too heavy – we know well in advance who will die an untimely death, and snippets of information are fed to us from Ruby all the way through the book. This keeps the shocks to a minimum while managing to maintain an, admittedly, dark comic tone.

I found “Behind the Scenes at the Museum” fascinating. For some people it may be a bit too ‘lady heavy’ as the main characters are all women. There are also plenty of men, but inevitably they’re unsuitable husbands or they get blown up/run over while doing daft things. I’m not a raving feminist at all, but the story made me proud to be female, in a weird way.

Ruby is undeniably the protaganist, but it’s amazing how her family history spirals back from itself for generations. The same mistakes are made, the same awkward situations to get into and the same personality characteristics crop up again and again. When I finished it, the first thing I wanted to do was trace my own family history – dig out genealogy charts, old photographs and keepsakes to see if history does repeat itself and what makes me, me. That sounds a bit cheesy, but I’ll bet that most people who read this feel the same way.

On another note, my friend Mrs D introduced me to the best website ever. No, not that one. It’s called Read it Swap it, and revolves around a kind of global library. You put a list on there of books that you want to get rid of, using their handy ISBN database, then other people look at your list and choose something if they like it. Then, you get notified and choose something of theirs. You send your book, they send yours and voila – you get rid of that book you were never going to read again and gain a shiny new one for the price of postage. Genius. You do have to trust people but there’s a pretty robust feedback mechanism so if you do have a problem the admins will help out. It won’t get you a book back but at least it won’t happen to you or anyone else, again. It’s especially brilliant for me as I have about fifty books I’ll never read again (“The Manny”, anyone?) and am obviously reluctant to spend £6.99 a week on a book that I will more than likely read once before relegating to a bookshelf. Also, the people on the site are lovely, lovely people. There’s an ‘Introduction for New Members’ section on the forum, so I introduced myself and talked about my Challenge. I got dozens of replies, and loads of requests to swap, in a matter of hours. Everyone’s supportive, helpful and most useful of all – book lovers!

No comments: