There’s only one thing you should remember, it’s the most important thing in the universe, and not only have you forgotten it but you can’t even remember enough to know you’ve forgotten. That’s the quandary at the center of Ruby Lennox’s life, the main character of Kate Atkinson’s marvelous “Behind the Scenes at the Museum.”
The book is about memory, family, and how the two both create and destroy one another. The family at the center of the book makes Marquez’s convoluted “One Hundred Years of Solitude” clan look straightforward, and makes Tolstoy’s Karenins look content. They’re all mad, all in different ways, overwhelming each other and leaving one another desolate, hurt, coming back, filled with pain and love as one.
The book is about a single over-extended family, but like all truly good novels it reaches far beyond that, into the history of twentieth century York, into questions of humanity: What do we remember? Why do we remember it? And can it be anywhere near as important as what we’ve forgotten? What we’ll never know?
There are secrets at the soul of the novel, secrets both known and whose knowledge is discarded or suppressed, secrets screaming out in their un-hiddenness, but so dreadful they can’t be spoken.