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Behind the Scenes at the Museum - Kate Atkinson

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Author: Kate Atkinson / Genre: Fiction

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      19.03.2012 14:14

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      Fabulous first novel of an excellent author

      I read 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum' initially several years ago and I loved it so much that I have since consciously read all the books written by Kate Atkinson. I very rarely read a book more than once and yet I have returned to this book over and over again and every time I read it I discover something new that I missed before or am presented with a view or emotion from one of the characters that I hadn't seen or felt previously. One of the most innovative thing about this author is that many of her stories have a degree of overlap or are somehow interlinked either by a character or an event which means that you can read a new novel and then be able to go back to previous novels and read it from a different perspective which means that you are able to get so much more from the stories and the characters. Even those novels that are not linked in an obvious manner seem to have fragile threads connecting them all which mean that each time she brings out a new novel her previous novels impact on how you read the new story whilst the new novel impacts on the previous novels which then cry out to be read once again. If you are a reader who needs something that is easy to read but which still provides you with something to think about then I would recommend that you give this novel a go.

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      27.08.2009 22:03

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      Unique, gripping and powerful read

      I read this book 11 years ago and I still remember it and recommend it to friends - that to me is the best indication of a good book!

      A friend recommended I read this book and i'll admit I wasn't that enthusiastic originally (I tend to be one of these people that finds an author they like and sticks to it). However, after the first couple of paragraphs I was hooked and got through the book amazingly quickly. The characterisation in this book is excellent and I think what kept me gripped was the way the book allows the reader to jump into the mind of different characters at different points. This means that you are always seeing the story from a different perspective and never get bored. The characterisation is also extremely powerful and stays with you long after you have closed the book. One word of warning though - this book is not convential or traditional in plot or storyline - An element of confusion runs throughout the novel and whilst this is what made the book more interesting to me I think it might be quite frustrating if what you are looking for is a straightforward storyline!

      It was when I chose to study this book as part of my English Literature A level that I found that it also goes deeper than it appears on first reading. For those that like literature you will find that it is actually littered with literary references to things such as Shakespeare's plays. After reading this book I went onto read other books by the same author and whilst her writing is clever and enjoyable I do feel that her novels are all very similar. Therefore I would say there is only a real need to read one of her novels and out of all of them this is the best of her novels.

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      09.02.2007 13:01
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      heartwarming

      This is a bit of a peculiar review for me to write. I have given this review 4 stars out of 5, which is, I feel, a pretty good rating. However, for a while I did really struggle with reading this novel, as you can probably tell when I tell you that I started reading it back in September or October, and only just finished it yesterday, at the beginning of February. 4 months is an extremely long time to read a book, especially for me as I’ve developed a knack of whizzing through novels after recently completing a degree in English. All this would suggest a much lower rating for the novel than I have given it. However, while it is true that it took me a long time (3 months, to be more exact) to actually get into the novel and even care about the characters at all, there was a point when I finally got it.

      ‘Behind The Scenes At The Museum’ revolves around the life of Ruby Lennox, beginning at the moment she was born, and ending when she is a much older and wiser woman. However, this novel isn’t ordinary in the sense that it only focuses on the main protagonist. This is a novel not only about one person, but about her family around her, the people from her past and future that have shaped her and made her the person she is. The novel switches from Ruby’s life, to that of her ancestors; people she has never met, or never will meet, but who unwittingly impact upon Ruby in the way that previous generations always do. The detailing of past lives starts at the turn of the century with a family portrait, up until the novel catches up with itself. There extracts are written in the form of footnotes at the end of each chapter, and admittedly, these are what I struggled to first get to grips with. It throws the thread of the story somewhat, and at times means it is hard to keep track. This meant that I found it hard to relate to anyone character, as there were so many thrown into the mix.

      As I have previously stated, it took me a long while to really get into the spirit of this novel, and I did trudge through the first half. However, once I did, I absolutely loved it. There was a point in the novel during one of the footnotes that really tugged at my heartstrings and even made my eyes cloud up. There is one character that throughout the novel does not reveal who the father of her baby is. It is not until her imminent death that she tells someone, and when, after her death, this is revealed, it is a beautifully poignant moment; yet so subtle and underplayed that you wouldn’t even know that it is such a big deal. There is another moment a few chapters on that also had such an impact on me. Ruby is talking for a while about what she would put in her bottom drawer, i.e. what ‘lost’ things she put aside to find in heaven. The moment when she finally realises what it is she has lost was such a strong moment for me I instantly fell in love with the whole book.

      The last half of this novel is, for me, where it really shines. There are many really touching moments as Ruby comes to terms with herself and the people around her. I think that one thing for me that really made me identify with Ruby was the fact that Ruby comes from a family of girls, having sisters. I have a sister myself, so the family bonds were something that I could identify with. For me, this was an important aspect that contributed to my enjoyment of the novel, so I’m not sure whether someone without any siblings would get the same level of delight out of it that I did.

      ‘Behind The Scenes At The Museum’ was Kate Atkinson’s first novel, and won her the Whitbread prize for 1995. This alone should be enough to intrigue you to read it, as it is a great feat to be able to write such a strong debut.

      I would wholeheartedly recommend this novel, it was definitely worth the slowness I found at the beginning.

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        24.01.2006 12:09
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        One of the best British books I have read for a long time!

        Behind the Scenes at the Museum was Yorkshire mother of two, Kate Atkinson's first novel and this wonderful book it is definitely one to be celebrated.

        Kate Atkinson was born in York and she chose the old walled City as the location for the tale of teenage Ruby Lennox and her family. The book starts from the moment of Ruby's conception in 1951, a moment grudgingly obliged by her mother, Bunty. Ruby starts the tale as a growing foetus, a baby inside her mother's womb. Boy, it sure did start to get uncomfortable in there after nine months, there sure wasn't a lot of room. Ruby was pushed into the world while her father George was in the Dog and Hare in Doncaster telling a women wearing a D-cup that he wasn't married.

        Ruby tells the story of her family exploring complex family relationships, births, weddings, divorce, death, secrets and lies. She spends her childhood trying to placate her mother and playing with elder sister's Gillian and Patrica, under the shadow of the Minister, as they trundle along the old pebble-stone streets and in and out of the pet shop, the family business.

        When she is just 5 Ruby is whisked away to stay with her Auntie Babs. She has no idea why, although she's sure that it's not a holiday. She has nightmares and begins to sleepwalk. When she returns no explanation is offered and her mother seems even more unhappy….

        Atkinson divides Behind the Scenes at the Museum into Chapters and Footnotes: the Chapters focus on Ruby and her direct family life with her mother and father and her sisters. The Footnotes tie up unexplained information mentioned within the chapters, exploring the history of her family over the previous two generations further, starting with Ruby's great-grandmother Alice, who supposedly died giving birth. Although I liked the footnotes as a unique style of writing, they can cause the reader to lose the thread of the story somewhat, particularly if you are reading slowly.

        The book is fluently written and poetic throughout. It is imaginative, thought provoking, hearth warming and funny. A lovely example of the poetic style of the story comes from Ruby's theory of the afterlife. She believes there must be a Lost Property Cupboard where all things we have ever lost have been kept for us - every button, every tooth, every lost library book and spare pen. Lost tempers and patience and innocence and the dreams we forget on waking…. A beautiful analogy.

        As for the ending, it is unexpected and shocking, cleverly tying together previous events, fitting together the pieces of the puzzle.

        I loved this book and I give it five stars. It is likely to be preferred by the ladies than the gents, although it is suitable for any ages. At 380 pages the book is a nice length, not too long but allowing time for the reader to get to know the characters and to understand Ruby's situation. It is a very British book, exploring life in the middle classes and if you are British, especially if you live in York, or the North, you simply must read it.

        Behind the Scenes at the Museum was published in 1995 and it subsequently won the Whitbread prize for book of the year The novel also appears on the 2003 BBC Big Read at number 142. Kate Atkinson has gone on to write a number of other novels including Human Croquet (1995) Abandonment (2001), Not the End of the World (2004) Case Histories (2005) and Emotionally Weird. (2001). I have not yet had the pleasure of reading any of her subsequent works but I certainly plan to.

        Poor Ruby. Does anyone ever say that? No they don't. But they should and by the end of this book you will agree….

        Publisher: Picador (November 12, 1999)
        ISBN: 0312150601
        Retailed at £6.99.

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          29.05.2003 04:07
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          I think you only realise the true power of books when you read one that has such an effect on you that you feel like a part of you is missing when you finally finish it. Not 'unputdownable' as such (I hate that word but I'm at a loss for a better one so it will have to do) but a book where the characters really mean something to you and you actually care about what happens to them, where when the narrator stops talking you feel disappointed because there was so much more you wanted to know. 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum' by Kate Atkinson was for me one of those books. (Sorry if you found that intro a bit much - but I am an English student you have to expect it of me occasionally) 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum' was on my reading list for last Semester and I have to confess I avoided reading it for two incredibly pathetic reasons - 1. The front cover looked a bit strange and I found it a bit off putting 2. I didn't like the sound of the title. See, I warned you they were pathetic, how many times do you hear the phrase 'Never judge a book by its cover'? I will in future take heed!! However when I finally got round to reading it I quickly realised the error of my ways. I've heard people comment that it's the sort of book that takes some getting into but it is worth perservering with, but I found it grabbed me from the very first page. Ruby Lennox is the narrator in 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum', telling the story of her family from the end of the 19th century to the early 1990's. This is done through a clever use of narrative technique, which gives the novel its individuality without making it pretentious or difficult to read. The linear story of 'The Family' is broken up by chapters inserted as 'footnotes' which link the families complicated history, but this jumping from past to present and back again never seems out of place. Ruby
          even makes comments on future events that have not yet occurred in the narrative, but again this does not seem forced and does not detract from the story in any way. Ruby is a wonderful narrator and the story is so successful because it is impossible not to warm to her. I felt like I knew her. It is a very funny novel, not 'laugh-out-loud don't read it on the train unless you want to look like a chuckling maniac' funny, but subtle and very clever. The story starts at Ruby's conception in 1951 with the line 'I exist!' Ruby recalls her life from its very start inside her mother's womb and this is a fascinating way to start a story. Seeing Ruby's mother, Bunty and her father George and her two sisters Gillian and Patricia from Ruby's eye view is sometimes poignant, often hilarious and always very entertaining. It is set for the main part in and around York where Atkinson was born and if you know the area half the fun is identifying the places in the story - most of which are genuine York landmarks described in fantastic detail. The only slight criticism I could find of the book is the way that all the lose ends are tied up so neatly in the concluding chapter - some of them would have been fine left untied. I appreciate that some people like everything explained at the end of a novel, but for me it was all a little too neat - some of the realism and honesty of the story was forfeited for the tidy ending. This was Atkinson's first novel, it was a resounding success and rightly so. It was received with critical acclaim and won the 1995 Whitbread Book Of The Year. Critics who actually know what they are talking about (as apposed to me, who didn?t like the pictures on the front cover) described the book as 'packed with images of bewitching potency' and as having 'unsettling complexity of vision.' I couldn't have said it better myself, which is why I didn't, I jus
          t 'borrowed' other peoples quotes. But that's the thing isn't it. When you read a book that you really enjoy its impossible to say why, this review very nearly simply said 'Just read it, alright, then you will see why I'm recommending it!' But of course that wouldn't have met the word count. I have read 2 of Atkinson's other books, 'Human Croquet' and 'Emotionally Weird' since because I enjoyed this novel so much (for the record I wasn't keen on the titles or the front cover of them, either) and they both confirm that Atkinson is truly an excellent writer. However neither of them grabbed me in quite the way that ?Behind The Scenes at the Museum? did. I didn't find either of them as engaging and easy to read (that's not to say easy to read in a 'Topsy and Tim' sort of way, some of the language is quite complex in 'Behind the Scenes' and the word play, which I loved, is very much in evidence throughout.) This is definitely a great book for Summer reading, so off you pop to Ottakars, before you forget! (And I have just noticed that the cover illustration that put me off in the first place was done by someone called Sarah Perkins so I'm going to pretend I liked it all along now just to show my support for a fellow Perkins - we Perkins' are a talented bunch you know!!) ISBN 0552996181 Black Swan Publishers Price £7.99

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            21.03.2002 16:28
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            “I exist! I am conceived…” thus starts the story of Ruby Lennox in Kate Atkinson’s first novel ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’. Kate Atkinson is a York born author who writes about places she knows and interweaves them in this novel. The story of Ruby Lennox is about the life of a young girl from her conception through to adulthood. The start of the story has Ruby in her mother’s womb aware of her mother’s feelings the joys and disappointments she feels. The story continues with the life of Ruby and her family as they live above the pet shop run by her family. Some thing happens to Ruby when she is quite young which she can not remember but involved her being shipped off to her aunt’s house for several weeks. This event has a large effect on Ruby’s life. The story is full of relationships in a family. Eventually Ruby has therapy and is able to remember what happened, it is not quite as the family had thought! As the story follows Ruby’s life you get glimpses of the family history with many skeletons in the cupboard. Between each chapter of Ruby’s life, which are written from Ruby’s point of view, there are footnotes, which are chapters about the family’s history. The family had faced many hardships and disappointments in life; there are several characters who were affected by war, unhappy marriages, and loss. This is a well-constructed book and written in an entertaining way, I was gripped. For me the book had an added dimension as I was brought up in York about a decade after Ruby. The places referred to in the book are very familiar to me. I felt slightly frustrated, as I could not work out where Ruby’s home was. The names of the shops and the streets were all there and so familiar. I was even more excited as Ruby ended up in my old school, Queen Anne Grammar School, (now no longer a school). There were references to ev
            ents that happened at the school, which I knew well. When girls signed out at lunchtime they had to go in pairs, I remember the walks through the museum gardens with my friends. The sixth formers put on a Christmas party for the first formers; I remember my party and the one we organised. There were references to two teachers I remember, my old Physics teacher, Miss Raven, and the formidable headmistress Miss Whittiker. I found this book was a great read for the memories it brought to me. I can confirm that the places and some of the people in this book are real and the book portrays a life in York that is in many ways feasible. I found this book worth reading from my point of view the story is a good and originally written one. The book is easy to read and would make excellent holiday reading. I am about to find more books by Kate Atkinson to see if her style continues to be as good. I do not suppose they will have so many references to my childhood in them!

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              06.09.2001 23:53
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              In 1995 York born author Kate Atkinsons first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread First Novel Award and Whitbread Book of the Year, while 1999 saw Waterstones choose it as one of the 99 greatest novels from the last 99 years. High praise indeed from an industry which is becoming harder for new talent to break into. So just what is it, contained within these 382 pages, that caught the imagination and hearts of these literary stalwarts? Behind the Scenes at the Museum portrays the life of Ruby Lennox, from her grudging conception in 1951, and early life in the city of York, to the solitude she finds on the Shetland Islands in her later years. Along the way we meet Ruby’s middle-class family, past and present, and share with them all their joys, heartaches and wrath at the way their lives have not turned out as they had expected. The first chapter of the novel is totally original, and an utter delight to read, as it captures your imagination at once. ‘I exist!’ exclaims Ruby, as her drunken father George rolls off the feigning sleep form of her mother Bunty. From the moment of conception, cocooned inside her mother, we are privy to Ruby’s interpretation of Bunty’s innermost thoughts on life above the pet shop, which the family run, and her feelings towards her husband and their two daughters. With the womb ensconced Ruby we are introduced to her elder sisters, five-year-old Patricia, brooding and friendless, and three-year-old precocious and pushy Gillian. Already the cracks are beginning to appear in her parent’s marriage, George a womanising boozer and irritable Bunty resentful of what she has given up for the daily drudgery that is now her life. By the time Ruby makes her entrance into the world she’s beginning to wonder if she has been born into the wrong family! What follows is the story of Ruby and her dysfunctional family as they try to get through all the devas
              tating incidents life throws at them. However, interspersed with the Lennox family tale, we are taken back in time to learn of the early lives of Ruby’s mother Bunty, maternal grandmother Nell, and maternal great-grandmother Alice. The moving, and sometimes complex, portrayals of these three generations of women is inter woven beautifully with Ruby’s own life, going a long way to explain why her family turned out the way they have. All three of Ruby’s ancestors are linked together by the choices they made in their lives, whether right or wrong, which effected the generations to come. They all share the same hatred of cooking, cleaning, pregnancy and caring for a growing family, yet Bunty’s domestic drudgery is far removed from the hard toil suffered by Alice. For Bunty the days are empty, filled only by a strict schedule of chores that she feels martyred to; for Alice these chores are what keep her children from starving, or freezing to death. But through all of this the lives of these women are cemented together by one tragedy after another, which culminates in a dark family secret that tears Ruby’s life apart. There are plenty of plot twists throughout this novel, some you can workout just before you get to them, others hit you with full force, leaving you breathless at Atkinsons expert handling of the plot, which keeps them hidden from you for so long. The story takes you from late 19th Century rural life, through both the First and Second World Wars, dipping into the excitement of the Festival of Britain and the Queen’s Coronation in the 1950’s, Beatle mania during the ‘60’s, the flares and sideburns of the ‘70’s, finally coming to an end in the early 1990’s. Along the way we meet a host of eccentric and flawed relatives, which add to the overall impression of the families dishevelled lives. Chapter three, when the family converge on the Lennox’s flat to cel
              ebrate the Queens Coronation, is superbly executed, reminding me of many of my own family functions, and a few relatives too! Some of the most memorable characters are introduced in this chapter, such as constantly tap-dancing cousin Lucy-Vida, her ‘common’ mother Auntie Eliza, camp cousin Adrian, the frighteningly creepy twins Daisy and Rose and strange Uncle Ted. Behind The Scenes at the Museum will take you on an epic journey through love, betrayal, secrecy, implied incest, fires, death, heroism, sibling rivalry, adopted babies, ghosts, breakdowns and suicide attempts. But you will be carried along every step of the way by the witty humour, satire and strong bonds that keep this unforgettable family together. For a first novel it is simply astounding, the sort of book that, once I’d finished, made me think, ‘I wish I’d written that.’ Its almost poetic prose will stay in your mind long after you have turned the final page, and the characters and stories will have you thinking of them for weeks to come. If I had one criticism of the book it’s that Atkinson ‘sews up’ everyone’s life, and what happened to them after the shocking truth was revealed, in the last thirty pages of the novel. It all seems a bit quick, but then the plot of the story is explaining how and why the ‘shocking truth’ occurred, once that truth is out the story is effectively told. It just feels as if Atkinson has quickly tied up all the loose ends now the main story is done. On saying that, I would still urge anyone to read this poignant, beautifully written story of a young girls struggle, and eventual growth, through family life and tragedy. When I first read Behind the Scenes at the Museum my father was looking into our own family tree. Although not filled with quite so many dark secrets as Ruby’s, a few things were revealed that surprised us. After reading this book I began to see my own
              ancestors in a different way. I realised that they were no longer just names on paper, that they did have hopes, dreams and disappointments of their own; they were real people, with real lives. But more importantly I saw how who they were and what they did in life made me the person I am today. It made me consider what it means to hold the title of mother, daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, and still retain what it is to be *you*. Towards the end of the book, when all has been revealed, an older, wiser Ruby says: "I have been to the world's end and back and now I know what I would put in my bottom drawer. I would put my sisters." After reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum I think I would too.

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                08.01.2001 03:26

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                One of the best things about this book is the thorough nastiness or pathetic-ness (is that a word?) of almost every character. There's something passionate about creating such a load of hateful characters. As for Ruby, the ever-developing, sometimes very young narrator, she's a terribly endearing storyteller, but sometimes too naive to be credible, as I figured out the mysteries with which she was struggling about 300 pages before she did. What grates slightly is the impression that the author *knows* that this book will be studied and therefore builds in certain contrivances or symbols to give an essay-writer something to look for. I could be wrong though. I like the book's attempts at messing with time, the confusion over identity and place, the almost supernatural episodes; but if it's mind-blowing magical realism you're looking for, I'd sooner recommend Angela Carter or Michele Roberts.

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                18.11.2000 20:24
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                I would be the first to admit that I am quite a slow reader. However, this book is not particularly long, yet it took me four months to finish it! The book was recommended to me by various friends with respected judgement of books. Given this, I was a little surprised that the book didn't really work for me. My only suggestion for this is that it lacks somewhat in 'un-put-down-ability' that everyone looks for in a book. Why this is the case, I am not sure. The story is good. It tells the family history of the story teller, Ruby Lennox in a jumping-around-in- time format. One minute the reader might be learning about Ruby's mother, Bunty during WW2 and then the next minute reading about Ruby's great-grandmother fifty years previously. This is all intermixed with the developing story of Ruby's own troubled childhood. Although this format is hardly difficult for the average reader (and I have read books which are far harder to follow!), it can make the book less favourable to pick up every night, especially in the early stages. Once the initial qualms are out of the way though and a fuller picture has been set, the story does become more enticing and I did find myself wanting to know more about the tragedies of Ruby's family by the end of the book. In fact, when I finished it recently, I did feel that I would miss it (but then again, I had been reading it for four months). All in all, this book is certainly worth reading but don't take too long over it. If you aren't on page 100 by the end of the first month, give up, it won't change your life.

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                  15.07.2000 21:13
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                  Kate Atkinsons book Behind the Scenes at the Museum wasn't my idea of essential reading but after i'd finished it didn't seem such a bad idea after all. I was essentially forced to read this book for an English assigmnment and hence made slow progress and found the book very hard to get into but much to my utter amazement after this slow progres i did begin to enjoy the book although the constant changing of time periods did make for awkward reading at times but the essential storyline was very addictive and the characters felt very close. I'm not to sure if i would recommend this book entirely but if you are a keen reader and don't mind slow starting books then i would definately get hold of a copy of this. But for anyone who likes to read but isn't a bookworm then i wouldn't bother.

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              • Product Details

                Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year and First Novel Awards 1995 / Set in York this book relates the ups and downs of a family with a closet full of skeletons.