Monday, October 14, 2013

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

She opened her arms to the black bat and they flew to each other, embracing in the air like long-lost souls.  This is love, Ursula thought.  And the practice of it makes it perfect.

But it doesn't make it perfect, according to Atkinson.  In the end it's all rather pointless, I suppose.  At least that's what I think the message ends up being from Life After Life, though I'm not sure Atkinson means it to be.

In Life After Life, we follow Urusla, an Englishwoman born in 1910 through...well...life after life.  Ursula dies constantly in the book, in a variety of different ways (flu, bombing raids, domestic abuse, etc), but is reincarnated as herself each time.  It's hard to tell if the first time she's born in the book is the first time she's born, but as she goes she picks up memories or flashes of her previous lives, like a strong deja vu.  Sometimes she uses this to her advantage (after three or four times she finally figures out how to avoid the Spanish flu), but sometimes not.  Sometimes her life turns out ok, but usually it doesn't.  She deals with rape and domestic abuse over and over, and struggles with the expectations of being a woman in the first half of the 20th century (though Atkinson's addition of these elements seems to be more about setting the scene than any kind of social commentary).

But still, it all feels kind of pointless, because no matter the outcome, as soon as she dies she has to start all over again.  The dreary lives are plenty dreary (and can be depressing as well), but the happy lives aren't that enjoyable because you know she'll probably end up dying in a bombed out building in London the next time anyway.  Toward the end of the book, after having spent part of a previous lifetime being friends with Eva Braun and getting to know Hitler, she brings enough of her recall into the next life and tracks Adolf down in 1930, sacrificing herself to kill him before he gets started.  I thought the book finally had some kind of closure, but turn the page and boom! here we go again!  Ursula has to do it all over again, this time without the foresight to take out the fuhrer, with the war happening anyway.

So really, no matter what she does, it doesn't matter, because she'll forever be caught in an endless loop, repeating life after life after life.

6 comments:

Christopher said...

This sounds tedious.

Brent Waggoner said...

This sounds like a great concept but the review makes it sound like it's poorly executed. Is it enjoyable?

billy said...

it was a little tedious at times. some of her lives are at least exciting, in that stuff happens, but the most interesting ones are usually the biggest bummers. it was still fine until i realized it wasn't going anywhere. there isn't some final goal that she achieves that breaks the loop or anything (i.e. killing hitler or identifying the child murderer from one of her lives who strangely doesn't really pop up again...). when i realized that there wasn't really an end, that she could have just kept writing different lives ad infinitum, i was kind of disappointed/annoyed

Cleo Rogers said...

Absolutely brilliant read. I loved it and missed it when I'd finished. would recommend it to anyone who loves reading.
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Hyacinth Marius said...

I always enjoy K Atkinson's books but this time she's outdone herself. This is one of the best books I've ever read!
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Micaella Lopez said...

This was one of the best books I have ever read. Very thought provoking and interesting premise.
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