Bingo Square: Home, Something, Home
Ruby Lennox narrates the story of her life from the moment of conception – “I exist!” and invites the reader into her family. There’s cold matriarch Bunty, barely there father George, oldest sister Patricia (not much of a sense of humour), and attention-seeking middle child, Gillian. Along with this main story there are ‘footnotes’, chapters that follow Ruby’s that add a little more history and backstory to her family, often centred on specific events or objects (a button in a sewing tin, a precious locket). The whole tale covers most of the twentieth century, often focusing on the wars and how they affected people. There are a great many misfortunes that befall the Lennox family, but Ruby covers it all with warmth and wit.
I enjoyed this much more than I was expecting. I have read some of Atkinson’s others (Life After Life, A God in Ruins) and liked them well enough, but this had a touch more humour about it, and it’s the kind of Northern, dark humour I am used to. (I picked this because Kate Atkinson is from York in the UK, which is close enough to where I am from, and because I couldn’t bring myself to read A Kestral for a Knave, which is written by a man from my home town and which you hear quite a bit about as you grow up there. There’s a film and everything. As a bonus Museum has a bit set in Canada, which is where I’ve ended up.)
I also liked the structure, which is unusual for me. If I’m reading about a particular character, leaving them behind for a while to follow others irritates me. But this was different. Each footnote added another layer to Ruby’s rich life. We learn about her great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, long lost cousins. All of the characters are so fully formed I feel as though I could have met them back home in the corner shop. And while there is a lot of humour, there are also some deeply moving moments, especially as Ruby uncovers memories of her own childhood which she had thought she’d lost.
Sibling relationships are explored, as are mother-daughter bonds – or rather a lack of bonding. Stories like this hit me a bit harder since I’ve had my own children. And though it may be fiction it makes me want to take notes. I must not be a mother like this!
And now I’m off to add a bunch more Atkinson books to my to-read pile.