Sunday 29 July 2018

Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson

Behind the Scenes at the Museum is a family history told by Ruby Lennox from the moment of her conception, an intriguing opening that allows her to form opinions of her mother, being privy to her thoughts and feelings, before she is even born. She uses objects such as buttons and photographs to travel back in time to tell the tale of generations past in sections labeled as footnotes. The story does at times feel like a series of unhappy marriages and untimely deaths yet it rarely feels too heavy. Ruby is matter of fact about the deaths and often mentions them in passing many chapters before they are described fully.

Ruby lives with her parents and sisters in a flat above the family pet shop. Her mother Bunty struggles with the demands of motherhood and life with her adulterous husband, an unfortunately familiar situation for the women in her family. We are told of sweethearts lost to the war and women running away only to regret their separation from their children for the rest of their life. There are some truly heart wrenching moments and many comic ones including a disastrous trip to Scotland with their neighbours.

Jumping back in time frequently I did find myself losing the plot somewhat beyond Ruby’s immediate family. Keeping track of how all the characters are related would benefit from a family tree. Confusion aside, the footnotes used to flash back are beautifully constructed glimpses into events that could themselves fill a novel. They give a real sense of history repeating itself and the way the current family have been forged from historic trauma and dysfunctional relationships. An enjoyable read despite the excess of deaths, by the end you truly feel as though you’ve walked a life.

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