Monday, December 9, 2013

Life After Life

Life After Life
Kate Atkinson
5 / 5

Published 2013

First Sentence
"A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the café."

Publisher's Description:

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.
Dear Reader, 
I really loved this book.  It was such an interesting way to tell a story.  I learned as I read this book that it was titled "Life After Life" because it was not only a play on "life after death," but also I think an implication of "life, after life, after life, after life, etc."  This book revolved around Ursula, a girl born in England on a snowy evening in 1910.  Her very start was a rough one: she was born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, and was turning blue by the time she was delivered.  This birth story and many other turning point moments in Ursula's life are told various times with various outcomes, and the snow - having been present at her birth - becomes a symbol of her many rebirths.  This book at times reminded me of The Time Traveler's Wife (another favorite), in that it jumped around in its own timeline many times.  However, it was mostly told more linearly than the Niffenegger book, and therefore I think would be easier to follow for those who weren't able to get into Clare and Henry's story because of the jagged timeline. 

I loved the world the author created, both at Ursula's childhood home in Fox Corner, and from there the World War II that she described so vividly from the UK's point of view.  She wrote the bombings and the soldiers and the rescue workers and even those working diligently in the homefront offices so well, I could imagine she had been there watching it all herself.  The quaintness and comfort of Fox Corner balanced pleasantly with the uncertainty and scariness of war-bombed London.  And the reader often gets to duck back to Fox Corner to hide briefly from the war along with Ursula and her family.

One of my favorite things about this book was how it begins: with a mysterious homicide which (although the author makes it pretty clear who the victim might be) reveals itself towards the end of the book, and all makes more complete sense.  I also loved the idea - which I think was the heart of this novel - that time and history turn on a dime: with every small moment and every decision you make, history goes one way and not another.  This is a book about second chances, about trying to right wrongs, and about how sometimes doing that, going back to try again and fix the start of a bad situation, won't always make everything turn out okay.  There are going to be joys and sorrows in life, and trying to fix the sorrows isn't going to prevent others coming along.  This was a beautiful, human, and heartfelt book, and I really enjoyed listening to it.  

Happy reading!,

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1 comment:

  1. Ladies, I love reading this. I wish I had more time. I love the format of this blog with the publisher's description, the cover, the first line, and the letter to the reader. I don't NEED new books to read, but thank you for adding a ton to my list.



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