[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…