Evocative read: “Behind the Scenes at the Museum” by Kate Atkinson

This latest book in my Book Club reading, now we are in Stage 3 Lockdown in Victoria, has been too close to home. I say that because the main character, Ruby Lennox is conceived and born just months before I was in 1952.

She is the youngest of 3 sisters, I was the eldest. Both our parents hate each other. In a truly wonderful example of “show, don’t tell” the author creates the atmosphere of the 1950s – the impact of living in the wake of WWII and the poverty of the majority of society.

My Mother Phyllis May Thomas
My Father William Charles Reed

Both my parents served in WWII. They married in December 1951 after meeting at a dance two weeks before.

Bill & Phyllis Reed with Me (Baby)
My Family – Phyllis & Bill – My Sisters Pam and Cathy – Me at Rear

The main character Ruby, marries an Italian. In my family my youngest sister married the Italian. I married the Scot, born in London in 1943.

The author, Kate Atkinson flips back and forth to the early life of mother, grandmother and mother. Interestingly, she achieves this in the form of footnotes which can last a few pages to a whole chapter.

She also covers the maternal males who endure unspeakable challenges during WWI and WWII.

My father served in New Guinea in WWII. My mother worked in a munitions factory and then in the Army, driving the Sergeant around in a Jeep!

They were 41 and 30 when they married. He was divorced and that is another story of dysfunction due to the war.

Even though Kate Atkinsons’s novel is set in York, Yorkshire there were many relatable aspects, probably because my mother was the daughter of an English woman and a Welsh man. There is a whole other story to this.

Kate Atkinson is a remarkable author and I would highly recommend this book.

7 Comments

  1. Yes, I struggled for the first couple of chapters, her writing was so evocative! She certainly mastered “show, don’t tell” in her style. I don’t know if any of the story is autobiographical, but what a wonderful way to tell a family history.

    Liked by 1 person

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