So, the answer to my big question from my last post, “Does Ursula Todd know that she’s living her life over and over again?” has been answered. And the answer is…. I’m not going to tell you. Read the book yourself and find out.
My major complaint about the last bit of Life After Life is that it gets pretty bleak. There are several lives in which Ursula goes on a European tour, but in one of these she ends up marrying a German man in 1933. A Nazi. She ends up becoming friends with Eva Braun, having a daughter, spending time with Hitler, and then killing herself and her daughter with cyanide capsules (as Eva Braun herself did at the end of World War II; thanks for that tidbit, Wikipedia!) because they are slowly starving to death as the British and American bombs fall on Berlin. I actually had a hard time getting through this section of the novel. Let me clarify on this point. I still got through this book a heck of a lot faster than quite a few other books I’ve read, but this section dragged compared to the earlier and also the later parts of the novel. Once the answer to my earlier question is answered the book picks up again, I’m pleased to report, though then it seems like it’s a sprint to the finish for the last hundred or so pages. But I found the sections in which Ursula is mired in World War II victimhood on either side of the English Channel very upsetting. It wasn’t until she begins to take charge of her life in the war years that I began to enjoy myself again—she becomes a rescue worker, someone who digs through the debris from the bombings to find survivors and recover bodies. It’s something I truly hope I would have been willing and able to do if I were in the Blitz, though I suspect I might have been hiding underground with the other terrified souls.
I suppose my only other true complaint about Life After Life is more an observation on its pacing. The book “averages” out at a moderate paced read for me, though the first half was decidedly quicker than the early part of the second, and not as fast as the last fifty pages. This book had a lot in common with The Luminaries, now that I think about it. Both are impeccably structured, with a circle of people at the center, though the true center of this novel is Ursula Todd, and The Luminaries had no real central character. Both are long, and take place over the space of many years. I think that Eleanor Catton does a better job with the pacing, ultimately, though it did take me a couple hundred pages to get into the swing of things with that book. With this single exception, I loved Life After Life. I skipped exercising to read this book. I read until it was almost pitch dark on I-5 on the way to Paso Robles last weekend. I did a lot of things I haven’t done with a book in a while, and that was a lovely change.
And now I have to start powering through my July Numbers Challenge book, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. I’m about fifty pages in and I am enjoying it quite a bit; I’m eagerly awaiting the book’s description of the comic book industry during the Golden Age of comics in the forties. More on that soon!