Spanning generations and both world wars, this British debut leaves no stone unturned in recounting the humorously turbulent family history of Ruby Lennox. Some novels grab the reader and hold on in a relentless pull to the finish. Others slowly reveal their secrets, unveiling quiet charms. Atkinson, winner of the Ian St. James Award for her short stories, confidently creates a narrative and characters that fall into the latter category--a quirky assortment of angelic RAF gunmen and lecherous village butchers. With its unique beginning--``I exist!'' cries Ruby, a minute-old fetus--the journey of Ruby's subsequent development, birth, and life up to middle age unfold amid alternating chapters narrating the tragicomic chronicle of her Yorkshire ancestors. From her great-grandmother Alice, who may or may not have died shortly after the itinerant photographer came round; to her grandmother Nell, who lost one fiancÇ after another to the war to end all wars, finally settling for what was left; to her own mother, the formidable and hopelessly disenchanted Bunty, Ruby not only has the phantoms of the past to contend with but also her less than perfect immediate family. Life ``above the shop'' (pet shop, then medical supply mart after a fire consumes the pets) is an unending ordeal what with Bunty's permanent frown and father George's frequent indiscretions, not to mention the two other Lennox girls and the deadly secret they all keep from Ruby. With a natural storyteller's flair, Atkinson tumbles forth an array of anecdotes, revealed secrets, and eccentric snippets of love and death that finally build into the splendid chronicle, ghosts and all, of Ruby's life. With a sly, biting humor and honest warmth, a thoroughly enjoyable first novel with the promise of good things to come.