The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Behind the Scenes at the Museum, by Kate Atkinson

My friend Dana gave me this book, saying it was “depressing” and adding that you have to read the last 10-15 pages for it to all come together. I’m going to disagree with Dana this time – for me, Ruby, the chirpy, young narrator, single-handedly keeps Behind the Scenes at the Museum from being depressing. I found a lot of comedy in this book despite the sad and tragic moments, and Ruby is one of the most endearing characters I’ve ever encountered. This is a well-told, intriguing tale of a young girl trying to find out just who she is and how her family history has molded herself and those around her. Her personal history is the Museum of the title, and it’s overflowing. The various mysteries of the book are all eventually explained, but if you are one of these people who can’t stand not knowing, go ahead and flip to the end. I’ll just recommend that you delay that for as long as you possibly can. I made it about halfway through the book before I succumbed.

Descended from a long line of unloved daughters who became bitter, unloving mothers, Ruby has a bitter, unloving mother of her own, Bunty. And Bunty was raised by the bitter and unloving Nell, who was raised by the bitter and unloving Rachel despite being the biological daughter of sad Alicia. These women and their sisters fall for the wrong men, bear children in and out of wedlock, and otherwise live grim, despairing lives. Except … each has a chance to for better, or at least different, lives. That chance is often squandered or snatched away from them in a moment. Sometimes, that moment involves a war. Sometimes, things just go wrong because life is messy. Ruby’s valiant effort to make some sense of life’s messiness and break the pattern, despite some danger of falling into it herself, is only a small part of the plot.

There are mysteries, as I noted above, most of which involve Ruby and her sisters. When your narrator begins with her own conception and doesn’t go much beyond her 16th birthday, the perspective can be skewed. In Ruby’s case, it’s very skewed. Yet she remains ever the optimist, believing that she is lovable despite the many cold shoulders she encounters at home. I, for one, love Ruby. And it becomes clear that Bunty, a miserable wretch of a mother, has some fight in her, too.

Did I mention that this book is set in the UK? And that Kate Atkinson is possibly the first British author I’ve ever read who didn’t mention London?

 Anyway, I am very sad to say that this book is UNSAFE for animal lovers. There are lots of animal deaths. One of the male characters is in charge of dog messengers used on the front lines in WWI, for example. His experiences are extremely sad and disturbing. Ruby’s family lives upstairs from a pet shop. That’s also extremely sad. Bunty does something vile to a pet (who ends up being rescued). And there are other incidents. If it really disturbs you to read about bad things happening to animals, you don’t want to read this book. Otherwise, if you can get past that, I’m recommending it.

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July 26, 2009 - Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, dogs, historical fiction | , ,

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