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Behind the Scenes at the Museum
Behind the Scenes at the Museum is the first novel of British novelist Kate Atkinson. The book covers the experiences of Ruby Lennox, a girl from a working-class English family living in York. The museum of the title is York Castle Museum, which includes among its exhibits the façades of old houses from the city, similar to the one in which Ruby's family lives.
By interspersing flashbacks with the narrative of Ruby's own life, the book chronicles the lives of six generations of women from Ruby's great-grandmother Alice to Ruby's mother's failed dreams.
Ruby's own life is told in thirteen chapters, written in the first person, documenting key periods in Ruby's life from 1951 ("Conception" beginning with the words "I exist!") to 1992. Between each chapter are (non-consecutive) flashbacks that tell the story from the point of view of one of the other members of Ruby's family—including her great-grandmother Alice, her grandmother Nell and her mother Bunty.
While mostly telling the story of the family's women, several of the flashbacks vividly depict the wartime experiences of their male relatives and lovers in both World Wars. One of the these depicts the crew of a Halifax bomber on a doomed last mission over Nazi Germany - which would become the main plot element in Atkinson's later "God in Ruins".
Ruby's family tree
Plot and themes
Common themes in the book include the untimely death of children, the effect of the two World Wars on the family, the ultimate fate of characters who "disappeared" from their family's lives never to be heard of again, and how the women of the family feel compelled to enter into unhappy marriages.
The fate of Ruby's family is revealed gradually. A number of revelations, such as the fact that Ruby's sister Gillian dies in a road accident aged 11, are revealed to the reader long before they occur. However, other revelations relating to the fate of various characters are withheld and revealed gradually throughout the novel, including:
The book won the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year, beating The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie and a biography of William Ewart Gladstone by Roy Jenkins. The book also won the 1996 Boeke Prize.