Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Kate Atkinson

Virginia Woolf – eat your heart out!


This would make the most magnificent, yet fiendishly difficult to adapt, film.

Our protagonist/chronicler is Ruby Lennox, whom we follow from her reluctant conception right up until the present day; alongside of this is her attempt to map out the history of her family from the 1880’s onwards and bring all those loose and unresolved narratives and dark secrets together into one coherent strand.

This book is a great advert for the modern novel and a marvellous rebuff to all those who say that books are redundant in the age of cinema; even though I’ve said that Behind the Scenes at the Museum would be a great film, it would never quite manage to capture the crazy chronology and selective narrative omniscience of the original (there’s more than a few narrative twists). I do like the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey* structure of this epic of the mundane, as it makes an otherwise rather unremarkable story of family life set alongside Great British Events of the 20th Century (the Queen’s coronation, the World Cup, The Beatles etc.) far more interesting and lends it an air of a real exhibition at the eponymous museum that the reader, or visitor, has accidentally viewed the exhibits in almost – but not quite – the right order.

The characters are also extremely well-realised and skip nicely over the border of likeability and back again (or not as the case may be) and shows each of their individual evolution not as some grandiose X-Factor style journey, but just as the natural and occasionally regrettable changes that a person’s character can undergo in the course of their lives.

I give this book 4 out of 5, on the grounds that no matter how much I like the chronology, characters et al the ending (and about thirty years) is wrapped up with lightening speed with at least one stupidly convenient contrivance concerning a nurse. Still, it’s a great way to pass a couple of afternoons.


*”People tend to think of time as a strict progression of cause to effect, but from a non-linear,non-subjective viewpoint  – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… Stuff.” Blink, Doctor Who.