Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Spoiler-free summary (and this is a horrible summary, please forgive me. It's so hard to summarize something that's not linear...):
Ursula Todd is a young woman coming to age between the two World Wars in England. She's a strange girl who knows things she shouldn't know and has tendencies to listen to the ominous premonitions that occur to her. As she struggles with coming to terms with her strange gift, she must also learn how to survive during the relentless bombing of London during WWII. As she grows, she realizes that she is repeating her life, over and over, until she gets it right.


I really liked this novel, but it wasn't sad enough for me. Ultimately, she uses her gift to change the history of the world and to save countless lives, which is admirable, but, in my mind, it would have been more touching if she used this massive gift to do something small and personal. In my deeply flawed world, "getting it right" would include a tragically wonderful love affair, a happy home, etc Though I guess that begs the question: Who determines what "getting it right" means?

I appreciated that Atkinson allowed her characters to be born again and again, reincarnated as themselves without heavy religious undertones. Buddhist concepts are discussed, as are the character's inclinations/responsibilities to attend church, but Ursula is largely allowed to speculate upon her situation by herself. Ursula is highly independent and it is somewhat thrilling to watch her vaguely become aware of what is happening and to adapt accordingly.

I love this cover.
I also loved that Ursula was never completely sure about what was going on - there were only dim hints along the way, feelings in the pit of her stomach, passing deja vu. This allowed readers (who most likely are not born again and again) to relate to Ursula and to wonder about themselves. The mechanics of her reincarnation are never laid bare to the readers and this adds to the mystical quality of the book.

I thought, at times, that the characters of Sylvie and Maurice were a little flat or inconsistent. We are
introduced to Sylvie very early on in the book and she seems to be a deep, brooding character who also has a sense of fun and mischief. She appeared to be a loving and doting mother, yet she absolutely hates her son Maurice. Is this a natural reaction to one's own son? I'm not sure. And how is she able to turn on Ursula so easily? It seems that she and Ursula are very similar, so it surprised me that she was able to completely turn off her love for her. Yes, what Ursula did was something dangerous and drastic, but Ursula handled it as best she could. I just couldn't imagine Sylvie being that angry for that long. The same is true for Maurice - he is horrible from the start with almost no redeeming qualities. Everyone in his family despises him. I found this a bit far fetched. Can someone be horrible all of the time? Even as a child?

Also, what was going on between Sylvie and George Glover!?

Overall, I thought Life After Life was a magical, thought-provoking read. There are rumors circulating concerning a companion novel that will shed light on Teddy's side of the story. I don't know if I loved Life After Life (or Teddy) enough to read it, but I'll consider.

Buy Life After Life now in e-book, audio, paperback, or hardcover format at Amazon.

Photos: Back Bay Books

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