Tuesday 23 October 2018

Life after Life

I've known of Kate Atkinson for quite some time, generally hearing good things, and I've been meaning to read her for ages, so when I saw Life after Life on BorrowBox I knew it was finally time. And I'm so glad that I did. Now of course I can't believe that I've left it so long. At least she has an amazing back catalogue all ready for me to explore.

The structure of Life After Life is fascinating. Nowhere near linear. Not like anything you've ever read before. So complex. But a necessity I guess given the premise of the story. A premise so complex it needs an About the Book before beginning. 
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
A kind of sliding doors concept I guess. A small change makes a huge impacts, and literally changes lives. It starts with a bang (literally) with a grown-up Ursula Todd shooting Hitler! Then we go back to the Todd family home, Fox Corner, on a snowy night in February 1910 where Ursula is born. Ursula is the middle child of five born to Sylvie and Hugh Todd.

 Ursula is born (repeatedly) on February 11 1910.
Jimmy's arrival had the effect of making Ursula feel as if she was being pushed further away from he heart of the family, like an object at the edge of an overcrowded table. A cuckoo, she had overheard Sylvie say to Hugh. Ursula's a bit of an awkward cuckoo. But how could you be a cuckoo in your own nest?
There is just so much in this book. The fox motif, the English class structure, the roles of women over time-within the family, within the workforce. The broad sweep of the narrative covers the major events of the early twentieth century - WWI, WWII, the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19, with a few chapters set in the 1960s.

I particularly liked the chapters covering WWII- the London Blitz comes alive in Kate Atkinson's prose. It's incredible. Everyone knows that the Blitz was awful of course, but I had never really thought about how awful it was to live through the seemingly endless German bombing raids, night after night. The enforced practicalities of that life. The horrors of that life. 

The physical book has an Author Note at the end where she called The Blitz the "dark, beating heart of the novel", but she feels that it isn't all about the war, and if she was to be pressed to say what it is actually about, then she would say that Life After Life is about being English. 

The storyline and the sections set in Germany didn't work so well for me. I found them far fetched! Which is a stretch given I'm quite happy to accept the initial premise of the book, and all the toing and froing in time. Indeed I enjoyed all that, it is frightfully clever. But that is really a relatively minor quibble. I did love Kate Atkinson's writing, her clever turns of phrase, her humour, are just my kind of thing. 
Pamela's support for the expeditionary force had taken the form of a mass production of dun-coloured mufflers of extraordinary and impractical lengths. Sylvie was pleasantly surprised by her elder daughter's capacity for monotony. It would stand her in good stead for her life to come. 
I'm really not sure what to make of the book as a whole. What am I to believe now? Did Ursula get it right in the end? I'm really not quite sure what to make of the ending. Life After Life would certainly reward a re-read, or a re-listen in this case. 
She had been here before. She had never been here before. 
I especially loved the narration by Fenella Woolgar, she has such a delightful, plummy English accent, so perfect for the story, and does wonderful regional and international accents and voices for the many different characters. It's such a shame that she doesn't do A God in Ruins (a companion novel to Life after Life), but I guess that book is Teddy's story (Ursula's younger brother) so it makes more sense to have a male voice. Although I see that Fenella Woolgar does narrate Kate Atkinson's current book Transcription, so I might need to have a listen to that one too. 

1 comment:

Marg said...

It is an interesting read. I still need to read A God in Ruins