Behind the Scenes at the Museum was Kate Atkinson’s first book. I’m a fan of her writing, having read and loved Life After Life, A God in Ruins and When Will There Be Good News? My only hesitation initially was wondering if the author might have started slowly with this first book and improved with later books, but not so. Behind the Scenes at the Museum is terrific.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum tells the story of Ruby Lennox, who narrates her own life from the moment of conception as well as dipping into her extended family’s stories as footnotes at the end of each chapter. Ruby’s story and the footnotes flicks back and forward in time, so that sometimes the reader knows what is going to happen to a character before an event takes place. I found this technique to be enjoyable and unsettling, as was the story of Ruby’s conception;
“At the moment at which I moved from nothingness into being my mother was pretending to be asleep – as she often does at such moments. My father, however, is made of stern stuff and he didn’t let that put him off.”
Ruby was born in the 1940’s in England into an unhappy family, which makes me wonder if all families are dysfunctional in stories, as otherwise there wouldn’t be a story. Her parents are unable to hide their unhappiness with each other from their children, although they are able to keep some secrets. Some of the secrets, such as Ruby’s father’s girlfriends, are kept secret from Ruby’s mother, while there are secrets, hinted at earlier in the book, which Ruby keeps from herself. Other secrets about other family members, such as the whereabouts of Ruby’s great-grandmother which shouldn’t be known to Ruby, are somehow known to her and she tells these secret stories as footnotes to her own chapters. These rabbit-holes were fascinating and I would love to know some of these sorts of stories about my own ancestors. One of the stories was similar to that of the Teddy’s experience in A God in Ruins. I must check to see if it is the same story, told from the point of view of two different characters.
The story covers a large amount of time, from WW1 to WW2 and into the 1970’s, though some character’s actions are timeless;
“She pushes her hair back from her forehead in a centuries old genetic gesture of suffering. The life of a women is hard and she’ll be damned if anyone is going to rob her of her sainthood.
Sad but true, I recognised my own self in the excerpt above. I hate cleaning the bathroom so I like to make sure that everyone in the household recognises my efforts when I do so. Just call me a martyr and get on with it!
Behind the Scenes at the Museum is funny and clever and more than a little on the dark side. I loved it.