callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

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


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


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.
Tags: kate atkinson

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