Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

One of the most talked about books of 2013 is Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. The author could have called it "The Many Lives of Ursala Todd." The premise is that a British woman born in 1910 is caught in a loop, much like the repeating days of Bill Murray in the movie Ground Hog Days. The difference is that Ursala may live for days or decades before dying and starting again at birth. Unlike Ground Hog Days, Life After Life is not comic.

Though born into the upper class, Ursala lives through many hard times. Readers will get to know some of these times well, as Ursala returns to pivotal events, making different choices and subsequently living differently than in her previous attempts. Throughout she frequents the dangerous waves along the British seashore, a dark road of near her parent’s house, the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, a circle of women attached to Nazi officials in 1930s Germany, and the streets of bomb-shattered London during World War II. Slowly, subtly, she begins to recognize patterns and identify a purpose for her lives.

While not comic, Atkinson does have some fun with some of Ursala's encounters, especially a young girl’s discussions with a child psychiatrist who is hired to evaluate her tendency to make forecasts that seem to come true. More often, however, Ursala is locked into terrible relationships with dire consequences. Readers may begin to hope Ursala will die again soon and get a chance to start over.

Atkinson has created a fascinating world that resembles ours in many ways. Surrounding Ursala with many well-drawn characters and historically-accurate details, she presents a new way to look at the early 20th century. Life After Life is book worth discussion.

Atkinson, Kate. Life After Life. Little, Brown, 2013. 529p. ISBN 9780316176484.

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