ABOUTBOOK: From the moment Ruby Lennox announces her own conception ("I exist!"), it is clear that she is a narrator who will leave no stone unturned in her account of family life above a pet shop in England. Not content simply to describe her own circumstances, Ruby investigates the lives of the women in family both past and present, from her great-grandmother's affair with a French photographer to her mother's unfulfilled dreams of Hollywood glamour. Hurtling in and out of both World Wars, economic downfalls, the onset of the permissive '60's, and up to the present day, Ruby paints a rich and vivid portrait of heartbreak and happiness, and from it draws a rare understanding of the shared secrets, hopes and failures that unite every family. DISCUSSIONQUES: What do cupboards have to do with the story? More than one reviewer compared Behind the Scenes at the Museum to Tristram Shandy and to the works of Marcel Proust and Charles Dickens. What might these novels have in common? How does Kate Atkinson update or expand upon the earlier books' use of narration and history? One of Atkinson's innovations is her use of footnotes. Why do you think she adopted this non-fiction technique in a novel? Although this novel is very much about a specific time and place, it has been embraced by audiences in twelve countries, in as many languages. What gives Behind the Scenes at the Museum such a universal appeal? What is the meaning of the book's title? What other fictional narrators does Ruby Lennox bring to mind? What does Behind the Scenes at the Museum say about women's roles and opportunities in the family and in the world at large? What do the four generations of women in Ruby's family have in common? Behind the Scenes at the Museum generated controversy in England when a critic called it "anti-family." How would you defend the book against this charge? What other novels, now considered classics, might have had to face this sort of accusation? AUTHORBIO: Kate Atkinson was born in York in 1951, she earned her master's degree in English literature at Dundee University, and did further graduate work in American literature. While raising her two daughters, she held a variety of jobs, from university tutor to welfare benefits administrator, and always wrote, publishing short stories in British magazines and finally her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, in 1995 in England and 1996 in the United States. The critical response in both countries was overwhelming, and Atkinson's talent was justly celebrated when Behind the Scenes at the Museum was named England's Whitbread Book of the Year.
"I exist!" exclaims Ruby Lennox upon her conception in 1951, setting the tone for this humorous and poignant first novel in which Ruby at once celebrates and mercilessly skewers her middle-class English family. Peppered with tales of flawed family traits passed on from previous generations, Ruby's narrative examines the lives in her disjointed clan, which revolve around the family pet shop. But beneath the antics of her philandering father, her intensely irritable mother, her overly emotional sisters, and a gaggle of eccentric relatives are darker secrets--including an odd "feeling of something long forgotten"--that will haunt Ruby for the rest of her life. Kate Atkinson earned a Whitbread Prize in 1995 for this fine first effort.