Life after Life - Kate Atkinson
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As usual, the writing is lively, intelligent, playful and unexpected. Life after Life tells the story of Ursula, born in a snowstorm in 1910 til her death...again and again. After each death Ursula's life resumes, but with history having slightly re-arranged its details enabling Ursula to carry on down a different path. This does not always make smooth reading as time shifts back and forth throughout the book. However Atkinson makes it work. Her writing was a joy and I fell for her characters. Some of them seemed a tad two-dimensional but it was quite helpful with time shifting frequently, to know who you were rooting for and who you weren't! The story of WW2 England and Germany is a familiar one in fiction but in Life after Life, the conclusion seems less obvious and anything feels possible.
I don't know how widely I'd recommend the book. If it sounds like it might be too much for you, you may well be right. If you're already a Kate Atkinson fan and like the idea of parallel realities in the early twentieth century, I would recommend - though if that's the case, you probably already have your copy!
And your review is enticing. I had to give you a thumb up on it.
I am looking forward to reading this one too Laura.
I particularly liked this line from the article, referring to Behind the Scenes at the Museum.
The book seemingly came from nowhere to win a major literary prize in London, instantly establishing Atkinson as a singular voice while generating grumbling among more established (male) writers.
>12 lauralkeet:: Laura, I couldn't help the grin and giggle that popped out when I read that about the guy thing too. Giggling again just thinking of it.
Blessed Easter ladies & gents out there. Here in the Pacific Northwest it is a beautiful day for a Resurrection Service. Can hardly wait to get to church this A.M. Our Good Friday service was so good and my grandson took his first communion. He was so happy. Even his Papa (my hubby, who is a non-believer, but attended service with us), was happy for him and smiled. I know this isn't "the correct forum" but I can't help thinking how good God is.
He is risen.
Once every year or two I am fortunate enough to run across a novel that is very unique, beautifully written and so engaging that I just get lost in the pages and I am so sorry when the novel draws to a close. Such is the case with Life After Life.
Prior to reading Life After Life, I had some misgivings . The story is based on the premise that the main character, Ursula Todd, is born and dies many times throughout the novel. I have difficulty with " experimental " novels and in particular I did not care for the movie Groundhog Day in which a man wakes on Groundhog's day repeatedly. This concern with regard to Life After Life was for nothing, so expertly and smoothly does Kate Atkinson handle the transitions. Each time that Ursula dies - or takes her last breathe, she wakes up as the same person , with realistic , grounded settings and an expanse of well - drawn characters, rounded characters . Each time Ursula is born into the same family, with the same setting, just the circumstances change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. The novel depends on the premise that when one comes to a fork in the road of life, one can choose to go left or right, and everything that happens after that choice is made is more or less consequence. Ursula is not is not always reborn as a baby, but often " the darkness falls" even as she is older , only for her to wake at the same age, or slightly older or younger, but always she is always Ursula, surrounded by the same cast of friends and family, though as time goes on new characters are of course present, and where Ursula lives changes as she ages. Once you accept that premise , which was very easy, the novel flows effortlessly .
As the story begins in February of 1910, Ursula is born and reborn several times , depending on whether the cord around her neck is cut in time or not. The re-births slow down greatly as the novel goes on. Ursula Todd is the third child , born to Hugh and Sylvie Todd. Father Hugh is a banker and mother Sylvie is his well -bred, intelligent wife.Eldest brother Maurice is a difficult, often cruel and thoughtless character throughout the story. Pamela, the second child, a practical, steadfast person and remains a close friend to Ursula no matter the circumstances. Younger brother Teddy ( Edward) is the good natured family favourite, and youngest child Jimmy arrives after Hugh returns from Flanders Field, WW1. The Todd family lives in country home called Fox Corner , which is within commuting distance of London England. They are well- to- do, with a cook, Mrs Glover and and Irish maid,Bridget.
As Ursula experiences " the darkness falling" and waking up to new set of circumstances, she begins to occasionally have a sense of deja vu. Will Bridget and Teddy die of the Spanish flu, will a child drown in a lake or not, when Ursula turns 16, will she be raped , causing a dreadful episode, or will she throw off her attacker and go onto and go onto college? Each episode ends with darkness falling and Ursula reacting differently and thus a new set of circumstances come into play.
The novel moves forward to WW11, with the London Blitz being perhaps most central to the novel , vividly and realistically described. Darkness falls relatively frequently during the Blitz, as Ursula works for the war office, does or does not work for the ARP, is or is not hit directly by a bomb.There are many grim scenes of bombs falling, fires, dismembered bodies, the smell of cordite and death. The horror of the London Blitz become very real. I enjoyed Kate Atkinson's even handed treatment of the soldiers of war. During the London Blitz, as Ursula is outside amongst the bombing , she " found it very odd to think that up above them there were German bombers flown by men who, essentially, were just like (her brother) Teddy. They weren't evil , they were just doing what had been asked of them by their country. It was the war that was evil, not the men. Although she would make an exception for Hitler.'Oh yes, 'Miss Wolff said, 'I should think the man is quite, quite mad.'" page 374
Does Ursula's seemingly infinite number of number of lives allow her to change the worlds destiny or not?
Though the plot may sound intricate and possibly grim, overall it is a warm, wonderful, and not infrequently darkly humorous read, one to be savored and appreciated. I enjoyed each and every word, and was sad to say good- bye to Ursula and the many wonderful characters that populated the novel.
5 wonderful stars
17 Thanks Darryl, I really struggled with how to explain the re- birth bit, because that idea was off putting for me, but Kate Atkinson handles it so well! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It's a completely different book than The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, which I also loved, but very good.
Life after Life certainly seems to be proving popular over here, and now it's been shortlisted too. Not having read the other shortlisters, I don't know if this one deserves the prize or not but I would love Atkinson to win.
I have Flight Behavior and The Light Between Oceans yet to read, and then I'm going to think long and hard about any others from this year's list.
From the shortlist I've read Life After Life 5 stars
Where'd You Go Bernadette 4 stars - but just more of a fun read
Flight Behaviour - abandoned on page 90 or so.
When I got home, I began Wolf Hall because I really want to get to Bring Up the Bodies before the prize comes out and wanted to read this one prior to. I am finding WH good but a bit redundant as I have read so much on this subject matter. Hoping that BUtB won't be more of the same for me.
Do you know what date in June the winner will be announced? I am hoping to have time to finish WH and read BUtB, NW, FB and MWBF. I guess I spent too much time on the L/L. :-(
Oh man, there is no way I can read the entire short list minus LAL & WYGB so I will probably try to finish WH then read BUtB & simply read the others later. I began NW; didn't do a thing for me so I set it aside. The same with FB & MWBF. I did read Bernadette and though I thought it not to be prize worthy I enjoyed it a great deal. Anyway hoping I can nail these two down before the 5th. Thanks bucket. That's only a week away. :-(
Didn't get much of Life read last night as I had visitors. But tonight I am locking the door, turning off the phone and ploughing through. My only criticism so far is that I sometimes lose track of the story because I am just waiting for the next death. It's a little distracting!
I think the reason it didn't quite make five stars for me was something to do with the characterisation. The different lives made it difficult for me to follow the character development of the main protag and I couldn't understand why the nasty brother was so nasty. I think the books I give five stars to, tend to be ones that resonate with me psychologically. I still loved it though!
I hope we hear soon who the winner is.
1. What do you make of the ending? For me, it was kind of anti-climactic, but from what I've read online, the author meant for Ursula's story & lives to go on infinitely, that there would be no one life where she was happy and then she would just die for the last time.
2. Towards the very end of the book, on pg 520, when Sylvie is giving birth and whips out a pair of surgical scissors, the chapter ends with "Practice makes perfect." What do you make of this? Does Sylvie have a touch of deja-vu as well?
3. From the beginning, I kept expecting Izzie's son to show up in an unexpected & important way, and was disappointed that he only surfaced in one lifetime. I felt sort of misled. What did others make of that?
4. When Ursula is a child and has a sense of deja-vu & keeps trying to stop Bridget from going out and catching the Spanish flu, I got the sense that Ursula is prompted to change things in each life, albeit subconsciously, to correct a wrong. I loved that idea. But later on, this is not always the case. For example, sometimes she saves Nancy; other times she does not. I was disappointed in that aspect.
5. Teddy, at the end of the book, says "Thank you" to Ursula. How do you interpret this?
I definitely feel like I want to start the book all over again & chart all her lives! Would definitely recommend this. Atkinson mentioned writing a sequel from Teddy's perspective. That'd be interesting.
1. I took the ending to be that Ursula's life went on and on. I wondered how Atkinson decided to end it when she did, as there can be no real ending. It wasn't Groundhog Day, trying to perfect something.
2. Maybe all of them have lives they live over and over in their own way? So Sylvie (and everyone) would have a deja vu and have different outcome at each point that affects their lives.
3. I thought her son would appear too! Now I can't even remember that he had a life where he did show up! Which one was that?
4. I found that aspect difficult as well. I kept thinking that each life would be better, but they were just different. If it was a really big wrong (the rape) then it didn't happen again - that only took once life to realize how to correct.
5. I don't know. Good questions. But a book from Teddy's persepective would be awesome, especially to see how Ursula changes/stays the same in his life. It also leads credence to my answer in #2.
Speaking of the rape, I found it hard to believe that in a subsequent life, Ursula pushed the would-be rapist off of her and that took care of it. Not too plausible, in my opinion (I know it's fiction, but still!).
I also found it more than a bit intriguing that Sylvie was seen in public with another man, but this occurred only once! Wish we could've gotten more insight into that.
I do remember being really satisfied with the ending. It felt a good time to finish the story and any subsequent re-living because of what Ursula achieved. I felt as if everything that happened in her previous lives was about getting her to that point. Though there was a twist to that too, wasn't there, which I can't mention without a massive spoiler.
For me, the greatest strength of the book is Atkinson's writing style which is playful and sometimes hints, rather than tells. Because of this I was happy to just get clues about some events such as Sylvie's possible man. Also, if we'd known everything about everyone, the book would have got very long and unwieldy!
I also expected Ursula to somehow make improvements with each new life, but maybe that would have been too pat and tidy. Also, as I said, the ending tied everything up fo me.
I think the "practise makes perfect" comment and Teddy saying saying thank you, are also examples of Atkinson having fun with the story, and we aren't really meant to know.
As I've mentioned before, the aspect I really wanted to know more about was Ursula's nasty brother (can't remember his name). I couldn't see what in his life had made him so awful. Also, it was sometimes difficult for me to get a feel of who Ursula was and what she had gained from each experience and each new life.
And I just thought that Ursula's nasty brother was simply a limited human being. Some people just are.....