Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

Uk cover edition

This book started boldly, with the attempt assassination of Hitler, then it goes back to February 1910 with the birth of Ursula. It is hard to talk about this book without spoiling some of the surprise and at the same time confusion (in which the reader will surely find themselves in) so I do apologise for this in advance, but there is no way around it. The story focuses on Ursula which becomes a peculiar character as every time she dies, and she dies a lot!,  she comes back to life. However strangely, she does not simply heal or magically `puff` into life, but time goes back for her to alter the course of her life, usually by changing small details. I loved this idea and the symbolism behind this (if I could applaud in writing, I would, instead I’ll put a little picture).  It was like video games where you can go to the last save before the hero dies and restart. At the same time, it was enchanting to see how insignificant details are more significant in our life than we would ever think of – this is where this book scores some points.

However, for me, stories focusing into the life of a character and his character’s interaction with other characters, no matter how beautifully written, it does not grip me enough especially if nothing of consequence happens (and until pg 152 it doesn’t except dying at least 6 times!), and it really doesn’t make me care about a character just because it die a lot. I would blame for this sin the constant time jumping and life alteration combined with seeing the story from multiple characters perspectives (with advantages and disadvantages). I remember enjoying going through different times in `The time traveller’s wife`by Audrey Niffenegger, so I would say that in `Life after life` I missed the adventure and curiosity to where this would lead.

After the big opening, which felt so final to me, going through a different pace with the life and deaths of Ursula it did not excite me as much. I felt slightly deceived by the writer as well when I was mislead into thinking that something of consequence will happen between Sylvia and George, so I sin this too. I wasn’t gripped enough, it missed some intent and intrigue, drama, anything to make Ursula more interesting (except dying and resuming from last save!) and the lives of those around her more appealing to my taste. Just the narrative, although beautiful, it did not hold enough appeal to continue reading after page 152 as much as I was curious about how and how many times she’ll die.

I loved the idea of this book and I love the set-up for it, the narrative was stunning, good choice of words, but I do have mixed feelings about it which is why I will not finish reading it as I don’t really want to know what happens further with Ursula. She might lead a more interesting life (which I think she will judging by other people’s opinions), but the book failed to convey that to me soon enough and that got me bored. Again, jumping around characters to tell the story was good in terms of understanding the characters and their motivations deeper, but at the same time it was quite disruptive to find myself in the head of someone who I didn’t meet before in the book and it is suddenly introduced when needed (Deux-ex-machina much?!), for example the beach scene with the guy painting (?) who intervenes. As much as I liked most of the time the feeling of the writer directly changing events, this sort of intervention with unknown characters felt a lot like cheating to me, so another sin.

This book had interesting characters, interesting story line in terms of altering events to change outcome, different POV’s to offer details and depth to the story, and a good back backdrop into how life was during the War, however the pace, the lack of action  and even frustration with certain elements of the story played a huge role into not finishing this story. As I said before, I really didn’t want to know Ursula more as I was not invested into her characters, to be frank, I didn’t care about her, although her deaths were interesting to read, but I couldn’t wait 600 pages to find out what put her in front of Hitler to attempt the assassination. In my opinion, this story should’ve had something going on in the first 100 pages instead of a restart of her life when she was a toddler. I am interested in the life of a fictional toddler as I am interested in how long a piece of string is. For me it is harder to relate, and by the time she grew up old enough to do something interesting, I got bored and put it down.



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