Several weeks ago I finished reading Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. If you pay attention to that sort of thing, and even if you don’t, you have probably seen Life After Life on numerous Best Of 2013 lists.
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.
What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.
At a glance, Life After Life appears to have elements of a novel that I would not only enjoy, but absolutely love. If you pay attention to the blurbs, this is one of the most remarkable novels to have been published in some time.
Since I am contrary, I only mildly enjoyed it. Conceptually, I love the idea of what the novel is about. I love the branching possibilities and that it is such small changes that makes the differences in Ursula’s life. When and how she dies are the whim of small decisions (go to London on this day? Is the doctor running late by one minute? Accept the help from this stranger?) and Ursula is not a major player in the world. She is an individual living her life during some turbulent times, but not much more.
I appreciated the overall construction of the novel, but I struggled to engage with the characters or the story. Whether it is the continual death (which, given some of my reading preferences, should not be too much of an issue for me) or the bleakness of what is going on in the world, or the sense that Ursula’s life is one hopeless attempt after another, or something else, I was stuck with the sense that Life After Life is a novel I could only appreciate from afar. The older Ursula became, the more I engaged, but never fully. From that perspective, I’m disappointed. I appreciated it more than some other recent book club picks, and I certainly understand why others love the book, but it just didn’t work for me.