Behind the Scenes at the Museum is a novel by British author Kate Atkinson, this being her first novel publication. Published by Doubleday on 2 March 1995, the book itself stands at 381 pages. It follows the story of a girl named Ruby Lennox who lives in York with her working-class family. The novel is presented through a unique angel that many books to not possess. It follows the journey of six generations of women in Ruby’s family, from her great-grandmother Alice to her grandmother Nell to her own mother Bunty, not the mention the women that are traced even farther back than that.
Ruby’s life and story is depicted through the use of thirteen chapters. The first chapter begins with her conception in 1951 all the way through to 1992. In each chapter there are flashbacks from the different generations in Ruby’s ancestry telling her story from their own point of view. It mainly revolves around the women in her family but there is the occasional word from the men ancestors who fought in different wars. The whole story is told in first person from Ruby’s perspective, except for the moments of flashback when the ancestors take over to tell their sides of the story.
There are several different but important and significant themes that are present within the pages. There is the theme of child death, the effects of the two World Wars on this one family, unhappy marriages for the women in the family, and disappearing family members. There is a wide variety of themes in this novel, but they all find a way to deeply connect and intertwine with one another. Atkins reveals the story little by little, peeling away the layers as the story continues. Some facts are presented to the reader long before the characters in the book realize it, but other facts are revealed in a gradual process that keeps the readers wanting more. The deep secrets are kept secret for some time before the reader gets to fully understand the picture.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum has won several awards, some of which include the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year, beating several other strong competitors of the time, as well as the 1996 Boeke Prize.
The theme of war in this novel, specifically the “the crew of a Halifax bomber on a doomed last mission over Nazi Germany” would eventually lead Atkins to write and publish her novel A God in Ruins in 2015. This would be a very crucial and revolving theme in this next novel.
Several different sources of feedback and criticism would be published following the publication of the novel. From Atkin’s official website, The Times wrote, “An astounding book...without doubt one of the finest novels I have read for years”. Hilary Mantel, from London Review of Books, wrote, “Delivers its jokes and its tragedies as efficiently as Dickens…outrageously funny on almost every page…will dazzle readers for years to come”. Behind the Scenes at the Museum has gone on to capture in the hearts of many.