Today’s book review of this novel is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
Synopsis (from Wikipedia): Behind the Scenes at the Museum is the first novel of British novelist Kate Atkinson. The book covers the experiences of Ruby Lennox, a girl from a middle-class English family living in York. The museum of the title is York Castle Museum, which includes among its exhibits the facades of old houses from the city, similar to the one in which Ruby’s family lives.
By interspersing flashbacks with the narrative of Ruby’s own life, the book chronicles the lives of four generations of women from Ruby’s great-grandmother Alice to Ruby’s mother’s failed dreams. Ruby’s own life is told in thirteen chapters, written in the first person, documenting key periods in Ruby’s life from 1951 (“Conception” beginning with the words “I exist!”) to 1992. Between each chapter are (non-consecutive) flashbacks that tell the story from the point of view of one of the other members of Ruby’s family—including her great-grandmother Alice, her grandmother Nell and her mother Bunty.
I first read this book in 2006 as part of a three-part college course analysing Kate’s first three books, this being the first. I remember struggling with it because of the amount of characters (from memory, eleven maternal women) but I persevered because of the course. I was glad I did because I enjoyed it, helped by having drawn a family tree – which would have been useful to have in the printed version – and the memory of having visited York Castle museum as a schoolgirl.
This time I’m listening to the audiobook which can often be trickier to keep up with because of distractions (I’m usually walking the dog).
We follow Ruby’s progress through life and a child’s interpretation of the world and those (her family) around her including her uncaring mother who, when one of her daughters says, “I don’t like porridge” replies “Well, I don’t like children so that’s too bad for you, isn’t it”.
Although I’m not a fan of history, it was interesting, and often poignant, listening to the portions about Ruby’s ancestors. That said, I would have preferred a larger portion dedicated to Ruby’s present day (especially where her wonderful imagination is told with charming humour) and less about the ancestors as they didn’t feel overly relevant at times.
With audiobooks, the narrator is a big part of the listening experience and some are better than others. This is the first I’ve heard with Diana Quick and while I enjoyed her most of the time, there were instances where her childish narration of Ruby grated but that was as much about the writing than the voice.
Although not my favourite of Kate’s, she’s still my favourite living author.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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