Author: Kate Atkinson
Release date: Paperback 30th Jan 2014
Genre: Historical / Literary
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: Black Swan
Life After Life is a story of a life lived over and over. It’s about death, life, war and the choices we make.
This is a complicated story. The main character is Ursula – a peculiar but intelligent girl. It’s really quite difficult to explain the plot. Ursula is born again and again in this book. She perhaps has a destiny to fulfil and each time she dies, she comes back the same but a little changed. She doesn’t really remember the lives that went before but she has inexplicable fears resulting from her many deaths. Each time she is born again, she finds a way to avoid that death but sooner or later comes yet again a cropper.
Born in 1910 over the course of the book, she’ll see the Great War, the Second World War. She’ll fall in love, or at least have lovers, she’ll experience motherhood and many losses.
I really found this book difficult to get into. In the first part Ursula dies so many times and in such quick succession that you don’t really get to know the characters. You meet her mother Sylvie, her sister Pamela, Bridget the maid, the doctor, her father Hugh. The list goes on and then, of course, it’s back to the drawing board, she dies, she’s born again. It was the sort of book that you never felt like picking up. But because I was reading it for the staff book group, I had to persist.
The middle part of the book was the most interesting but it was also rather grim. Ursula experiences domestic violence, rape, rejection, war. Talk about depressing. The final part of the book – well, I just didn’t get it. The whole thing was just completely unsatisfying. Ursula appeared to have a purpose throughout all her lives. I think she achieved it but I still don’t quite know. The ambiguity is not a good thing for such a complicated book.
The wartime setting was vividly described and this was what made the middle part interesting. The author was particularly good at bringing to life the many ways that people died in the war. She held nothing back. Now I think about it. I think this book is rather brutal but perhaps that it is only right for a book exploring the horror of war and persecution. The other enjoyable aspect of the book was Ursula’s family and their foibles.
Overall, I think Life After Life required rather a lot from the reader. It required patience, considerable concentration and perseverance. For me, there just wasn’t enough reward in the story for the effort that had to go into the reading. This book is definitely for people who enjoy detail and non-linear storylines. So in essence – not me!
Source: Borrowed from the public library