Kate Atkinson is a brilliant writer, and I admire her most when she’s writing about books and bookworms in her fiction. A God in Ruins is both a beautiful novel and a superb example of this.
|The Lake District.|
She had never been without a book for as long as she could remember. An only child never is. Literature had fuelled her childhood fantasies and convinced her that one day she would be the heroine of her own narrative. Throughout her teens she inhabited the nineteenth century, roaming the moors with the Brontës, feeling vexed at the constraint of Austen’s drawing rooms. Dickens was her – rather sentimental – friend, George Eliot her more rigorous one. Viola was currently rereading an old copy of Cranford. Mrs Gaskell did not feel at home in Adam’s Acre, where the reading matter ran from Hunter S. Thompson to Patanjali’s Sutras with not much in between.
A memorable moment of A God in Ruins?
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold. The world is charged with the grandeur of God. Full fathom five thy father lies. Little lamb, who made thee? Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie. On that best portion of a good man’s life, his little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love. Farther and farther, all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
The first phrase, “Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold”, is from “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” by John Keats.
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God” is from Gerard Manley Hopkins.
“Full fathom five thy father lies” is Shakespeare’s The Tempest (note: this is a correction, I previously attributed it to Plath).
“Little Lamb, who made thee?”, William Blake.
“Though worlds of wandwood leafmeal lie” is Hopkins again.
“On that best portion of a good man’s life, his little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love” is from William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”. It’s a phrase that always brought tears to one of my university lecturers (alongside most lines of Wordsworth, really).
And finally, the quote that captured my attention as I first turned to this page, is from Edward Thomas’s “Adlestrop”: “Farther and farther, all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire”.
How better to sum up a literary life?
However, a life isn’t just built of books, as Teddy realises:
Like more of the same? Subscribe to the Tolstoy Therapy Newsletter and receive a round-up of the week’s articles every Sunday to enjoy with your coffee. Click here to subscribe or take a look at an example copy here.