‘Something more interesting than the mechanics of bombing’


While I was in Cambridge, I managed to start Kate Atkinson‘s extraordinary novel, A god in ruins, and I’ve just finished it. It centres on the life of a bomber pilot during the Second War War, but it starts much earlier and ends around 2012 – and while its focus is on ‘Teddy’s War’ (it’s a companion to her earlier novel Life after Life (2013), with its unforgettable rendering of the Blitz, and it comes with a research bibliography), it’s about much more than that. In fact, a common refrain is ‘Let’s talk about something more interesting than the mechanics of bombing’ – though Atkinson handles those superbly well too. The best – and most affecting – novel I’ve read in an age. It’s not so much the scenes from inside Teddy’s Halifax that haunt me, brilliant though they are, or even the dilemma that lies at the heart of the novel – ‘killing people from twenty thousand feet up in the sky’ or killing a single, solitary soul – as the way in which Atkinson renders Teddy’s own death. She does so in exquisite, vivid, illuminating prose, and manages to leave a mesmerising ambiguity: as the walls close in and crash down one by one, is Teddy remembering – re-living – in the darkening present or dying in the incandescent past, ‘a blaze of light in the dark’?

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