A God in Ruins tells the story of Teddy Todd – a World War II bomber pilot but also a husband, father and grandfather. Having come through the war alive despite all expectations, Teddy faces a new challenge – to live the normal life he never imagined he would have.
A God In Ruins was maybe my favourite book that I read last year. It is a companion book to Life After Life, which I also loved, and focuses on one of the other members of the Todd family – Ursula’s younger brother Teddy and the life he goes on to lead.
While Life After Life played with the concept of how the smallest things can cause a ripple effect through the future, A God in Ruins plays with the concept of time itself. We’re catapulted backwards and forwards through Teddy’s life, from his childhood to his days in a nursing home. We live with him through his relationships with his wife, Nancy, his daughter, Viola, and his two grandchildren. We swing from past to present – hopping from memory to memory, from the day-to-day tasks and conversations to the major turning points that define his existence. All of this adds up to a picture of who he is, what he wants and how he changes.
This isn’t a book about war, but the war undoubtedly plays a huge role. Teddy’s war, and his experiences as a wing commander and bomber pilot, is the greatest influence on his life and his experiences. After life in the skies and the need for complete and utter abandonment to his fate – no matter what that might bring – normal life was never something Teddy expected to have. As a result, when he has it, there’s always something that feels a little flat. This book really captures that – contrasting the life or death bomber runs to Europe with the ups and downs of a life that is, in some respects, perfectly ordinary.
Teddy’s war also plays a major role in his relationships, especially with his children and his grandchildren, who are so far removed from the events that shaped their grandfather’s early years. In one particular scene with his grandson, Teddy struggles to adequately put into words what the stark white gravestones of the war cemetery mean to him – and the generation gap seems to be a chasm that words cannot breach.
The ending was heart wrenching and the final author’s note brought tears to my eyes. I listened to this as an audiobook and thought it worked so well in this format. The narrator is fantastic and I was hanging on every word.