LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson

Book Quote:

“Don’t you wonder sometimes,” Ursula said. “If just one small thing had been changed, in the past, I mean. If Hitler had died at birth, or if someone had kidnapped him as a baby and brought him up in— I don’t know, say, a Quaker household— surely things would be different.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shultman (JAN 8, 2014)

Kate Atkinson’s first novel, Scenes at the Museum, began with two words: “I exist!” This one says, “I exist! I exist again! And again!” Life After Life is a marvel. It’s one of the most inventive novels I’ve ever read, rich with details, beautifully crafted, and filled with metaphysical questions about the nature of time, reality, and the ability of one person to make a dramatic difference based on one small twist of fate. In short, it’s amazing.

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd arrives early, a cord wrapped around her neck, already dead. Scratch that. On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd arrives early, lets out a lusty wail, and makes a safe transition into this world. Ursula Todd will die many times in this mesmerizing and compelling novel and in many different ways. But each time, she will gain some innate foresight to help her avoid the traps that have occurred before.

It’s not as if writing about living again and making other choices hasn’t been done before by contemporary writers. Lionel Shriver writes about parallel lives in Post-Birthday World; Stephen King delves right into it in 11-23-63 and so on. What makes this novel extraordinary is that this novel is a layered and nuance exploration on the very nature of time and reality. As Ursula’s doctor says to her,

“Time is a construct, in reality everything flows, no past or present, only the now.”

In Ms. Atkinson’s world, one character – Ursula – can be the embodiment of many different people, often as a result of one small alteration. Look – here is Ursula, a fiercely protective mother. But look again – now she is a mistress, an alcoholic, even a killer. Each Ursula rings authentic. And each life could just as easily have happened.

This is a unique and highly exciting way of storytelling, spanning the monumental history of two world wars and complicated family dynamics. Ursula’s memory is like a “cascade of echoes” as Ms. Atkinson returns again and again to a core question: “What if there was no demonstrable reality? What if there was nothing beyond the mind?”

As the choices and consequences grow, the scenes often turn on small details. What book is Ursula reading – a French classic or a Pitman shorthand manual? What is her reaction to a lost dog that crosses her path? In other books, details like these could be easily glanced over; in Life After Life, they become crucial. Everything can turn on the drop of a dime – a simple push or an impromptu decision.

“She had been here before. She had never been here before…There was always something just out of sight, just around the corner, something she could never chase down – something that was chasing her down.”

At one point, Ursula briskly states, “No point in thinking. You just have to get on with life. We only have one after all, we should try and do our best. We can never get it right, but we must try.” But what if we DID have more than one? Ay, there’s the question…

AMAZON READER RATING: from 1,444 readers
PUBLISHER: Reagan Arthur Books (April 2, 2013)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shultman
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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January 8, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2013 Favorites, 2013 Man Booker Shortlist, Alternate History, Costa Award (Whitbread), Facing History, Literary, Reading Guide, Unique Narrative, y Award Winning Author

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