A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
I once heard Sister Wendy (the art historian nun) explain cubism - a style of painting that had previously baffled me. She explained that cubists were trying to capture every view of a three-dimensional object at once, on a two-dimensional canvas. In a few words, cubism made sense to me, and changed the way I looked at those paintings.
I mention this because it struck me a short way into ‘A God in Ruins’ that this book does something similar with characters. It skips around in time, zipping from an event ‘now’ back and forward in time to explain how the character got here, and what the future ripples of this event will be. The way I have described it makes it sound ponderous, wordy and heavy-handed, but Kate Atkinson has such a deft, light touch that it just feels like seeing every angle on a character at the same time. Even so, she leaves a few surprises that come out of nowhere and grab at your heart when you least expect it.
The novel focusses on Teddy, an RAF pilot of a Halifax bomber during the war, but features many other members of his family, friends and colleagues. It is such a beautiful, humane book about stoicism, love, duty and guilt, and the ending… I’m still trying to get over the ending.