Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

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[E-book. First published 2013]

 

Very few widely regarded books make it past my ‘avoid the bestseller’ philosophy – the tastes of the masses and my own are often quite different. But it seems like everywhere I have looked this year, ‘Life After Life’ has been reviewed, recommended, and hailed as one of the top books of 2013. As some of my favourite writers and journalists have it down on their ‘must read’ list, I decided to take the plunge.

 

Ursula is born with the ability to re-live tracts of her life. Set in wartime Europe, the storyline cleverly flits between scenes previously visited with variations on fact that affect the outcome; giving her the ability to die and be born again, rethink her decisions as if on impulse, and recreate history.

 

As much as this was central to the novel, it is surprisingly one of the elements that annoyed me sporadically throughout the book. At the same time, I can’t help but praise Kate Atkinson for how the book was put together. It was carefully thought through, was technically very well-crafted and intelligent, and, towards the end, I fell in love with it. Actually, I fell in love with how Kate Atkinson tells a story – how she transports the reader to another time with the detail of an historian. It inspired such empathy and emotion in me and made me feel the minutiae of war so acutely.

 

Although, as a whole, I wouldn’t consider ‘Life After Life’ my preferred type of reading per se, it is a book that made me think. It made me think about second chances, acceptance of circumstances as they are, and the vices and virtues of human beings. I can’t say it will have the lasting impression the critics make out, but perhaps it has something to do with the nature of expectation and disappointment…

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‘Mad About the Boy’ (Bridget Jones #3) by Helen Fielding

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[Published 2013 by Knopf]

 

“I often find that the anti-hero makes a more lasting impression on me.” This was my answer to a question during a book moderation many years ago and crossed my mind a few times during my reading of ‘Mad About the Boy’.

 

I am a true Bridget Jones fans. I love the books and the movies for different reasons and I hail Helen Fielding as a comic master for writing books that actually make me laugh out loud (something very few novelists have ever achieved). In the wake of the latest instalment’s release, I was shocked to read a number of damning articles about Bridget Jones culture and what it means for women.

 

‘Mad About the Boy’ is Bridget’s diaries now that she is a mother and a widow. Helen Fielding’s latest work retains the same unique humour as her previous books. This is put into the context of the present day – what it means to be thrust into the dating world again, grappling with social media, and the trials of modern motherhood.

 

What the critics don’t seem to understand is that very few women will aspire to be Bridget Jones. I can’t imagine people picking up the book looking for a hero. She is an exaggerated symbol of feminine characteristics gone awry. I don’t think many women read the books as an act of feminism or hoping to find inspiration to solve the world’s problems. Don’t get me wrong – I hope that the very same women who read this book will afford an equal amount of time to reading something that will inspire them to better their lives and their standing in the world; for themselves and those around them, but I do not believe that the enjoyment of Bridget Jones and the drive to be a good 21st century women are mutually exclusive.

 

‘Mad About the Boy’ is a reminder that Helen Fielding is a master of her craft. Bridget’s attempts at Twitter, dating a younger man, dealing with being a single parent are all relevant to the present day. The internet and modern media both have a role to play in daily living and this book aptly portrays this. Bridget Jones has evolved. The recognition of this is shocking, funny, and incredibly clever at the same time.

 

If you are one of those people looking to take something away from your reading of ‘Mad About the Boy,’ consider Bridget Jones the anti-hero. For many, she may be the antithesis of the women’s rights movement, banal, and just a bit silly but she has always been a symbol of what not to be. For its unmatched entertainment value, it is one of the best forms of escape.