Life after Life
By Kate Atkinson
This book is about Ursula who has many lives. When she is born she dies but then gets to carry on with another life but always with the same family, and as she get older the same cast of characters. This happens numerous times during her childhood so we soon get used to the premise, some danger occurs, Ursula dies, then she pops up again on the next page. In the first part of the book it can be a little tedious as the story doesn’t feel as though it’s moving on at all.
The first two incidents that make you start to think about decisions, or maybe just fate, affecting your life are the murder of the next door neighbour and the rape. These are things that constantly plague people’s consciences: ‘if I hadn’t been late, if I’d taken a different route, if I hadn’t missed the bus, if I hadn’t stood chatting,’ and so on. Kate Atkinson brings these dilemmas to life, with Ursula reliving events to different ends.
The WW11 section is when the book comes into its own, or rather Kate Atkinson does, the Blitz is brought to life in all its horror and grim reality by Ursula and her fellow wardens on the front line.
Between the falling bombs and devastation, the scenes of Miss Woolf (a true back-to-the-wall stoic Englishwoman) and her colleagues are truly heartwarming and sometimes truly sad.
The story takes a wild turn at one point when Ursula’s life has her not only living in Germany but, a friend of Eva Braun and a guest at the Fuhrer’s table. The point being made was an obvious one but suspending disbelief was impossible.
This book is interesting and kept my attention. The characters were well-drawn especially Ursula, Sylvie and Izzie. The dialogue between Sylvie and Izzie was humorous and very real.
The problem with the book is that because death has been taken away as the ultimate ending you can’t care enough about Ursula: she dies, she comes back. Rather than feeling like a complete novel it feels more like a series of short stories with the same characters.
There are suggestions throughout the book of,if not clairvoyance, then an ethereal quality about Ursula. I’m left unsure if this is the case and she knows she is re- writing history or it’s just happenstance that she does things differently.
I would recommend this book but with the proviso that it may not be what you think it is. But they are sometimes the best books.