So I wasn’t really sure what to write about for this post. I did just finish a book, but I don’t feel any strong motivation to write about it, so I think I’ll skip on that. Instead I’m going to talk about one I’m just now restarting, one I have tried to read on three separate occasions now, and have failed to finish each time. The first time was in college, during my senior year. It’s the only book I was assigned in undergrad that I didn’t finish, which I’m only a little ashamed of. The second time was this past summer, when I picked it up again alongside another novel which quickly ate up all of my reading time and so yet again this one fell by the wayside. The sad part is it’s not even that I don’t like the book. It’s a great novel. And now I’m going to finish it.
The book is Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson. Atkinson is an incredibly fun writer. The only book that I’ve actually finished by her is Human Croquet, which is a brilliantly strange story. It follows a young girl, Isobel Fairfax, as she grows up in suburban England and, occasionally, travels through time. It’s a heartbreaking romp across time and generations, filled to the brim with the ache of longing and the pangs of getting older and trying to find yourself through the people you’ve lost. Atkinson’s writing manages to feel perfectly natural and human without ever sacrificing the beauty of imagery or ideas. I’m only about twenty or thirty pages into Behind the Scenes and I’ve already remembered why I enjoy her so much. She begins Behind the Scenes with the narrator and protagonist, Ruby Lennox, narrating her own conception and from there sets out to spin an enchanting tapestry of lives spread throughout time and across histories both familial and national, all revolving around Ruby’s life.
As I’ve already said, I haven’t read all of Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Hell, I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. But already I can see a preoccupation with history that seems to run through all of Atkinson’s novels, from Human Croquet’s time travel to her latest novel, Life After Life, where a woman’s life appears to only consist of dying and being reborn into the same family time and time again. Her work seems to stem from a fascination with how the individual is formed out of the lives that precede it, how each life is shaped and defined by the people who populate it, and then tracing those same forces on up the family tree through time and into the often ill-defined or only half-remembered life of the family itself. Of course, having interesting preoccupations isn’t nearly as impressive if you can’t present them in an equally cool way. Luckily, Atkinson is endlessly inventive with her writing, as evidenced by Human Croquet’s playful bait and switch with narrative structure and plotlines. I’m pretty psyched about finally picking my way through this thing. Depending on how things go, you may get another post about. So keep an eye out for that if you’re interested. Maybe you should go read it too. It’s pretty good thus far.