Sunday, February 3, 2008

Book Review

"Behind the Scenes at the Museum" by Kate Atkinson. 10/10.

Kate Atkinson RULES.

After reading her last two novels recently (reviewed briefly here), I went straight to Amazon to order all of her older books. (I'd read them all before, but I love to re-read old favourites). It took a while, and one of the books was unobtainable in North America, but the rest of the package arrived last weekend. I positively devoured Behind the Scenes - her debut novel - and now I honestly can't decide whether this one, or Case Histories, is my favourite. They're both perfect, and more accessible (i.e. less weird) than her others.

It helps that Behind the Scenes is set in York, where I lived between the ages of 5 and 18 and where my parents still live today. Atkinson uses real street and place names in the book, so everything feels very familiar; I've walked down those streets, eaten at that fish and chip shop, been to that pantomime on opening night, caught many a train at that station, spent 3 weeks in that hospital etc. My dad used to teach at the grammar school that the main character and her sister attend, and its former headmistress (who I think I remember meeting) is mentioned by name twice. Even Whitby (where the family spend a week on vacation) and Edinburgh (where the main character works for a while) are familiar. One of the characters even spends time in Vancouver for goodness sake.

But that's just the icing on the cake. The story is engrossing, the characters (mostly female) in each generation of the family are amazingly vivid, and despite the serious topics (war, untimely death, grief, dysfunctional families in general) it's a very uplifting novel. (The same is true of Case Histories, which contains murder, sexual abuse and loneliness but still makes me smile).

Read this book. Seriously. Then come back and tell me what you think! (Mermaid, you can start).


  1. The only book of hers I've read is Case Histories, which I enjoyed a lot -- though thought the ending was a bit disappointing. I have bought the next book featuring Brodie, which is languishing somewhere among my piles of books waiting to be read.

  2. The sequel isn't as good in my opinion, although I loved Case Histories so it wasn't really a fair comparison. Apparently she has a 3rd and final Brodie book planned when he will go back to his roots to investigate the event that marked his childhood (being deliberately vague as I'm planning to lend Case Histories to at least one person who reads this blog and I don't want to spoil the surprise).

    May I ask what part of the book's ending you didn't like? Was it that all the loose ends got tied up a little too neatly? That would be my only complaint about CH, and behind the scenes to a lesser extent. I'll forgive her that indulgence though!

  3. Loved the book. It helped that I read your review first and your identification with some of the details. That, of course, made me imagine (nearly) everyone speaking with your accent which added to the enjoyment. I will have to find her other books and follow through.

    Cheers, Mermaid

  4. I'm glad you liked it! I have one more you can have now, one you can have when Hubby's done with it, and another on order that should be arriving soon.


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