Update on Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life (by Jill)

life after life cover


I have been making steady forward progress on Life After Life since I last posted on Saturday, and only have about a hundred and fifty pages to go (out of five hundred and something).  I’ve been enjoying it quite a lot, but I’m not quite sure what I want to talk about in this post.  It seems to me that half the fun of reading this book is to see what sort of shenanigans Ursula Todd gets up to as she lives and relives her life.  It’s been fascinating to me to see how slight changes in what Ursula does change where she ends up and how she dies.  Because she always dies.  So far, 1947 has been the longest she has lived, and that puts her at the ripe old age of thirty-seven as a maximum life span so far.

One thing that hasn’t been made entirely clear is how aware Ursula is of her life recycling.  I know that early on she would become possessed of a feeling of danger that she couldn’t quite explain when something bad was about to happen, but that has not been elaborated upon as of yet.  I wonder if Atkinson is going to keep that vague.  That being said, the last life I finished reading places Ursula in Nazi Germany during World War II, and the last lines of the chapter are as follows: “She held tightly on to Frieda and soon they were both wrapped in the velvet wings of the black bat and this life was already unreal and gone.  She had never chosen death over life before and as she was leaving she knew something had cracked and broken and the order of things had changed.  Then the dark obliterated all thoughts (379).”  Perhaps she becomes aware of all the other lives as the darkness is coming at the end of each one?  (All of her lives end with “the darkness” coming, or something along those lines.)  I don’t know.  But I’d really like it explained to me by the end of the book.

Generally I have no complaints about Atkinson’s writing style.  I love her and haven’t been able to find anything nit-picky to complain about, which is good, but I have come to enjoy nit-picking minutiae on the blog in the past couple of years, so it’s also bad.    I went back into this year’s Tournament of Books on themorningnews.com to see what some of the best minds in reading thought of Life After Life so I could try and pilfer some of their thoughts.  Life After Life was eliminated in the first round, but then came back in the Zombie Round and made it to the Finals where it lost to The Good Lord Bird by a fairly large margin.  A criticism I agree with but don’t necessarily feel is a fault is that one of the judges said the supporting cast felt more like “plot devices” to him.  I suppose this is true, though I hadn’t really thought about it much.  This novel is simply not character-driven; even Ursula is a bit two-dimensional in many of her iterations.  I’m okay with this aspect of the book because it doesn’t purport itself to be a character study, unless one considers the early twentieth century to be a character.

And with that, I’m going to conclude, because I really would like to finish Life After Life by Thursday so I have something to write about!

This entry was posted in Fiction - general, Fiction - Historical, Fiction - literary, Kate Atkinson, Reviews by Jill. Bookmark the permalink.

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