My dear friend Liz (you may remember her from our trip to the Hamptons for her triathlon in September…see above) had SO MANY FEELINGS about Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life that I’m turning over the blog to her today…take good care of her!!
title: Life After Life [support an independent bookseller and buy at Strand]
by: Kate Atkinson
genre: literary fiction
pages: 544 pages
“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
I picked up Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life to read while visiting my family over Christmas. It’s the story of Ursula Todd, who dies shortly after being born on a snowy night in 1910. She is reborn on the same night, and goes on to live and die, over and over again. When I originally read about Life After Life, I immediately thought of Groundhog Day and assumed that Ursula, like Phil, was given the rare opportunity to re-live her life until she got it “right.” The book, however, is not about living the “perfect life,” it is about the concept of eternal return. Nietzsche, who is mentioned numerous times throughout the book, posed this hypothetical question – if you had the opportunity to live your life as you now live it, and live it innumerable times, would you protest, or would you say, “never have I heard anything more divine.”
Life After Life is my kind of book. I love stories that are told from a unique perspective. The book appealed to me because I have often wished I could hit “reset” on a game console and “re-play” a particular stage of my life. Would my life be completely different, or would fate lead me to the same point, with my finger on the reset button? Now, I have another question – how many times would I hit the reset button until I give up and yell, “Enough! Turn the Nintendo OFF!”
There are many constant events and characters in Ursula’s life. How Ursula’s story progresses in each of her lives depends on how the characters react to the events. In each of Ursula’s lives, she must make a decision. Should she go swimming with her sister, Pamela? Should she climb out of the window to save her doll that has been maliciously thrown onto an icy roof? Must she kill Bridget to stop her from visiting London to celebrate the Armistice?!
This is not to say that Ursula lives the exact same life every time she is re-born. To the contrary, many of Ursula’s lives differ vastly from her previous lives. Each life is subconsciously imprinted on Ursula, causing Ursula to innately know when something is a bad idea. Because of this, she typically avoids making the same mistake twice.
Life After Life is a “thinkers” book – nothing about the book is handed to the reader. Atkinson does a remarkable job in introducing subtle references to Ursula’s past lives, while keeping Ursula’s storyline straight. She leaves it up to the reader to connect the references and answer questions.
What I didn’t like about the book, however, was the number of editing mistakes. The errors began before the story even started, (there is an error in the Nietzsche quote listed in the Epigraph), which is disappointing considering Life After Life was listed as one of the New York Times top ten fiction books of 2013. I almost stopped reading the book when I spotted the first grammatical error on page 3.
I am glad I continued reading, though, and not just because I had no other reading material for my flight. A story is more than its individual parts, and Atkinson has spun an absorbing and thought-provoking tale. She just needs a new editor.
Rubric rating: 6.5. This may be the type of book that is better during a second read-through. But ain’t nobody got time for that.