Book Number Fifteen – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.
I remember this book being spoken about a lot during the time of its release and it’s often been one of those books that I’ve picked up and flicked through every time I’ve seen it in a book store, but it’s always lost out to something else. Recently the book was selected by the Book Club I run as part of the Manchester Women’s Institute. One of the reasons it was nominated was because we wanted to cover a book written by a female author with a female protagonist.
The story starts off with the birth of a baby girl who dies when the umbilical cord is wrapped around her neck, the next chapter is the same baby girl being born but this time surviving. Early on it’s clear to see that this is going to be the pattern of the book. In a repetitive manner most chapters of the book start with Ursula living her life and then dying and restarting that segment of her life all over again. In essence you’d think that this could make for something of an interesting read but I couldn’t get over a few things. First of all in some segments of the book Ursula has a clear feeling that something bad is going to happen and acts out to make circumstances different in order to change the outcome. For example she pushes Bridget down the stairs to prevent her and her brother dying from the flu. But at other times it’s like she has a ‘shadow’ of something not being right, almost like a faint sense of déjà vu.
Because the storyline is so disjointed it’s hard to build any kind of connection with the character of Ursula, she’s a little one dimensional, as her personality doesn’t seem to change when she starts each new life. Some of the storylines lack any closure and often the other characters in the novel are stereotypical or so dull that they tend to mould into one. That being said there were some great chapters that were both powerful and at some points distressing to read. These included subjects that were dealt with in a very emotive way such as when Ursula falls pregnant due to a violent sexual attack, and later on in life when she finds herself in an abusive relationship. But perhaps the saving grace of this book is the honest and raw way in which the author describes the Blitz. There was something so visceral and frightening about this section of the book that it really made me so much more respectful of the time period.
There’s no arguing that Kate Atkinson is a talented writer, some of the writing is at times both beautiful and personal, however the novel is quite convoluted. Nothing really happens, there’s no character development and some things that have the potential to make great storylines are mentioned once and forgotten about. I didn’t get any real sense of following a story and found the whole thing rather disappointing.
Star Rating out of 5: 2.5
‘I like to think of him – of all of them – playing a never ending game in heaven. A perfect afternoon in June, always just before they break for tea.’
If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear what you thought so why not comment below. I always like to hear different perspectives.
Happy reading fellow bookworms.