June 8, 2009

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum is a real treat. The book opens in 1951 with the conception of the Rose Lennox, narrated by Rose herself (from an insider's perspective, of course). The wee little one-celled, oopps, two-celled person, oopps, four-celled now, has all the vocabulary and literary references of a grown-up. It is a quirky and highly engaging narrative voice and I loved it.

Interspersed with Rose's voice are footnotes that tell the backstories of the extended family. Boys go off to war, girls get pregnant, families squabble, people die, small children too. There is sadness and relief, amusement, mystery, and ordinary detail of ordinary people. The pleasure of the book is Atkinson's entertaining voice and her ability to recall and relate what it was to be small. She nailed me with this passage:

I am sent to bed first and have to negotiate this trecherous journey entirely on my own. This is manifestly wrong. I have adopted certain strategies to help us in this ordeal. It's important, for example, that I keep my hand on the banister rail at all times when climbing the stairs (the other one is being clutched by Teddy). That way, nothing can hurtle unexpectedly down the stairs and knock us flying into the Outer Darkness. And we must never look back. Never, not even when we can feel the hot breath of the wolves on the backs of our necks, not when we can hear their long, uncut claws scrabbling on the wood at either edge of the stair-carpet and the growls bubbling deep in their throats.

I felt the same way as a child, though I was much less eloquent about it. I'll be adding Kate Atkinson's other books to my To Read pile.


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