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gertrude

November 2017

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reading

What’s it all about? Life after Life, Kate Atkinson

lifeafterlife

I requested this book from the library and although it’s been out for some time, it still came with one of these stickers:

librarysticker

I’m an admirer of Kate Atkinson’s books but was late reading this one. The premise is intriguing. As it says on the cover blurb, ‘What if you got the chance to live your life over and over again, until you finally got it right?’ What indeed? As it turns out, the ‘getting it right’ is totally misleading, as we never do find out which life was the right one. I wasn’t put off the book by its length or by the complexities of its narrative, but by the repetition.

Ursula Todd is born during a snow storm in 1910. She is dead.
Ursula Todd is born during a snow storm in 1910. She lives.
While her parents Hugh and Sylvie (I loved them) live relatively stable lives, poor Ursula gets to live hers over and over again, in different circumstances. There’s an unnerving, almost supernatural aspect to this, as Ursula sometimes seems aware of what has happened/might happen to her and is not surprisingly subject to fears, premonitions and feelings of déjà vu. At one point she and her brother Teddy are talking. ‘What if we had a chance to do it again and again,’ Teddy said, ‘until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?’
‘I think it would be exhausting…’
Exhausting is the word. Whenever the words ‘Darkness fell’ appear, you know that Ursula has died again, which gets tiresome. By the time Ursula has died three (four? five?) times in the Blitz, I was heartily sick of it. I did enjoy the characters, the humour, the family life and London in wartime. The section in which Ursula lives in Germany strained my credulity.

I see The Telegraph reviewer called it her best book so far. I disagree. In my opinion it’s her The Little Stranger: ambitious but too ambiguous to suit me. As I said of Sarah Waters’ book, a good writer’s books may not all be equally good and the reader is not necessarily failing if she finds one she just doesn’t get. I wouldn’t want to put anyone off reading Life After Life as it is intriguing, well written and brilliant in its way. I’d much rather read about Jackson Brodie, though.

Comments

I was thinking of buying it for Arkwright (we are both big Jackson Brodie fans) but might not bother now. Do You like Susan Hill's Serailler series?
It's certainly nothing like Jackson Brodie. Wait for the paperback?

I read the first three, I think, and admired them very much. Exactly the opposite of cosy crime; not dwelling on violence but with the emphasis all on the victim and the real horror of murder. I gave up because I got tired of Serailler. I felt he should get over his problems with his father and sort himself out.
I've yet to read the Jackson Brodie books but I loved Life After Life and didn't find the repetitive elements grating - once the premise has been established the 'flow' seemed right.
I saw Kate Atkinson interviewed recently, and she said she particularly likes endings so she gave herself many to write in this book. This 'symphonic crescendo' of endings (as she called it) allowed her a lot of scope for open situations and unanswered questions as well as neatly finished plotlines.
Hugh and Sylvie are great, aren't they, and Fox Corner sounds lovely!
Oh, do try Jackson Brodie, and read the books in order. Edinburgh interest! I think I've reviewed or at least mentioned each one.

I searched on Kate Atkinson's official website for some information about her aims in writing the book, but couldn't find anything. Some author input would have helped me. I agree about Fox Corner and liked the way all the different Ursulas looked back with nostalgia to 'home'.
I've tried a couple of Kate Atkinson's books over the years and haven't ever managed to finish one (so far). This one doesn't sound like my cup of tea either, but I may well give her another try one day. I'm obviously in the minority, as she seems very popular.
Perhaps she's just not for you. I enjoyed Behind the Scenes at the Museum and the four Jackson Brodie books.

Perhaps Catherine Alliott is more up your street? I'm currently reading The Old-Girl Network which is rather silly but entertaining.