‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’
by Kate Atkinson
Pub: Black Swan 1996
I don’t re-read novels very often. However, after finishing the final page of Kate Atkinson’s “Behind the Scenes at the Museum”, I immediately turned back to the beginning and devoured it all over again. Atkinson’s evocation of post-war northern England is so successful, I was transported back to my own childhood during the same period, innumerable memories rekindled.
This is the story of Ruby, daughter of George and Bunty Lennox, and their everyday life above the family pet shop in the shadow of York Minster. Accompanying Ruby are her two older sisters, Gillian and Patricia, and a colourful array of skilfully drawn characters.
Using the device of alternating Chapters and Footnotes, Ruby’s omniscient narrative flits easily between episodes in her own life and snapshots of previous generations, weaving elements of the family’s complicated history into a dense tapestry of relationships and events. Allusions to a secret buried deep in Ruby’s past run through the vivid fabric like a dropped stitch, culminating in a shocking revelation.
This intricate and involving novel is beautifully written, sustaining an effortless balance between comedy and tragedy throughout. The imaginative and ambitious style requires commitment, but the reward is an entertaining, emotional and extremely satisfying read.