Wednesday, December 25, 2013

LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson

This book has Kate Atkinson's signature snappy dialog, but, other than that, it's atypical, although her other books rely heavily on coincidence or serendipity, and there's a bit of that here, too. Certainly, the author points up how the direction of someone's life can hinge on a seemingly inconsequential decision.  Ursula dies over and over, including the day she is born, but gets to relive each life-threatening experience in such a way as to live another day (similar to the movies Groundhog Day, Sliding Doors, and Source Code).  It's unclear as to whether she imagines these various alternatives or actually lives them, but there are so many scenarios, and there's so much movement back and forth in time that it's challenging to keep up.  Ursula was born in 1910 (unless she was strangled by the umbilical cord and never lived at all), and each chapter's title is a date, so that I had to keep calculating her age for the chapter at hand.  Besides the element of confusion, though, the thing that bothered me is that it was difficult to become very attached to Ursula, not only because she kept dying, but also because with all her wildly divergent life segments, I didn't gain a sense of who she really was.  Did she become friends with Eva Braun and Hitler in Munich, or was she helping rescue survivors of the blitzkrieg in London?  The opening pages suggest that she may have even changed the course of history.  With all the permutations and combinations, she has more lives than a cat.  She's sort of a pawn in this constant rewinding, although she has a sense of déjà vu that allows her to steer her life away from events that will result in her death or that of someone else close to her.  I kept wanting to know which sequence of events characterized her real life, but this is fiction, after all, so reality isn't a requirement.  This book is a critics' darling, but I'd still like to have another Jackson Brodie novel from Ms. Atkinson.

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