|Life After Life
"A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the cafe."
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.
I have been waiting to read this book ever since Arianna wrote a glowing review of it (check it out). I'm glad she convinced me to read the book, because I really enjoyed it. I thought the idea of reading someone living life over and over again would get annoying, but the Author makes very good use with repeating subjects (hardly at all) and jumping through time (skipping long bits to catch us up). I really appreciated the timeline of the story and the delicacy in which she traveled on it. Ursula, the main character, is the one who ends up living her life over multiple times... giving her the chance to set things right and change her future/history. In the beginning life, she is strangled by her umbilical cord, making her first life very short and tragic. Whenever Ursula dies, the "black bat of darkness" comes and then snow falls (Arianna points out the symbolism of that in her review).
The remarkable thing surrounding each life, is that she gets to change her situation (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse). I loved the anticipation of the "do-over" that you started to realize was coming. My one gripe revolves around this as well though, I kept reading a little too quickly... anxious to get to the next part. This might be my own problem though, I get overly curious and anxious sometimes and this can be detrimental when reading a book that needs you to stay in the "here and now" without looking to what might be ahead. I don't think this is a universal problem and it probably didn't have the same effect on others reading this book. When something went "wrong" in her current life, I was just focused on what she would do to fix it in the "next" life. Smartly, the Author doesn't make Ursula's memory of her past lives clear cut. Each time she comes across an event that was troublesome in her past life, she has a feeling (almost like a dream) that something should be done about it but she doesn't really know why. The vague cloud of memory is a nice touch and might have been my favorite small detail to the crazy idea behind reincarnation (if you'd call it that).
I loved the way the story progressed (even if it had me wanting to jump ahead), each life was unique and Ursula had fantastically unusual experiences in all of them. One of my favorite moments was when she rescues (more than once) a dog she dubs "lucky" from a building about to come down. I almost wished there would be more to the dog and the connection they might have shared. Alas, he plays a very small part but still won my heart over. I also liked how in each different life, she seemed to have different connections with her siblings, the situations changing the closeness she felt with different ones. In one life, she was best friends with her sister, Pamela (told her absolutely everything), while in another life... her younger brother was the one she constantly turned to. I found that fascinating, the turns and bends through life becoming waves that change small things but effect the larger picture (such as sibling relationships).
To sum up my thoughts on this book, I loved reading it. Atkinson has a beautiful way with words and she thinks outside of the box (a value I absolutely love). I wish I could have slowed things down a bit, my anticipation got to me and I found myself on edge too many times. Again, this is my own silly personality and I shouldn't fault the book for this. I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes to read thoughtful literary novels with beautiful writing.