Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Book Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Author: Kate Atkinson
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Personal Copy
This book would be rated: PG-13 for rape scene, infidelity, and some violence
The first time Ursula Todd is born, in a midwinter snowstorm in 1910, in the countryside near London, she dies without taking a breath. The second time she's born, also in a midwinter snowstorm in 1910, in the countryside near London, she manages to live for a couple of years. The third time, she makes it all the way to 1918. Each time she dies, she gets to do it over again.
Kate Atkinson's books almost always have a quirky twist on reality, some with more or less success. Based on the glowing jacket quotes on the back cover of Life After Life and the amount of advertising money that is being poured into it in the New Yorker alone, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the book itself. I mean, isn't it just like a grown up, British, more refined version of Groundhog Day? But I will say this, I like Groundhog Day, and I really, really liked Life After Life. It was a book that, for me at least, lived up to the hype.
One of the most fascinating elements of the book is how Ursula was able to influence herself in different incarnations of her life. She suffers from crippling deja-vu, to the degree that her mother has her seeing a psychiatrist (in several of her lives), and sometimes these premonitions cause her to make choices for reasons she doesn't understand (for example, she pushes her maid down the stairs, preventing the maid from attending a parade where she contracts the Spanish Flu and brings it home to the family, resulting in Ursula's death). It's interesting to see where the elements of her life are the same and where they are different-- how tiny events or choices can make huge differences in how a life plays out. And, like Bill Murray, Ursula seems destined to repeat the events of her life again and again until she fulfills her ultimate destiny.