Sunday, October 13, 2013

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

February 11, 1910.  On cold, snowy day Ursula Todd is born with the umbilical cord around her neck.  She dies.  Darkness fell.

February 11, 1910 Ursula Todd is born on a cold, snowy day and begins her life again, when the doctor cuts the umbilical cord around her neck with a scissors, just in time.

So marks the days of Ursula Todd's life, because as she grows, she also dies and then begins her life anew. The story always brings you back to February 11, 1910.  Ursula is born into middle class English family.  Her father is a banker and they live in the countryside, in a modest home with a cook and a housekeeper.  She has 3 siblings and grew up in the shadow of World War 1.  Life after Life is about Ursula's time living before, during and after, World War II.

"No point in thinking, she said briskly, you just have to get on with your life.  We only have one after all, we should try and do our best.  We can never get it right, but we must try."

"What if we had a chance to do it again and again, Teddy said, until we finally get it right?  Wouldn't that be wonderful?" pg. 446

Ursula does get the chance to live her life, again and again, although she doesn't know it.  She has a vague sense of deja' vu or that something is different about her but really she is just living her life as best as she can.

Life after Life is a unique and unusual story because the main character keeps dying and being re-born and the details of the story continually change.  As a reader, you need to keep track of the details as the story builds to a climatic conclusion.  Let me just say, there are a lot of details in this book of 500 pages.  The story is told in fragments and jumps throughout time and history and it is up to the reader to figure what is happening and how it connects to the bigger premise of the book.

I read this book in three formats, first as a library ebook, then as an audio book and I finished it in a print edition.  I would not recommend the audio book as I felt it was much harder to know where you were in time and space and to connect the dots of the story, because in the print and electronic editions there are many line or text breaks and you can't really tell that in audio format.

Overall I liked the story and was intrigued by it.  Atkinson experimented with  style, time and space.  I felt it was a lot like the Groundhog Day movie in some ways (idea mostly) but yet completely different.  Ursula is a great character and the most developed.  Some parts of the story had me on the edge of my seat and other times, I was not interested at all.

This is the first book I have read by Atkinson and I really want to read more of her books.  I think Life After Life explores fascinating questions about life.   I would really like to do things over sometimes and I wonder what life would be like if I made different choices.  Choices that you make affect others and it is interesting to ponder how your life would be different.

Life After Life is an intellectual read so you must prepare yourself to think deeply.