Friday, April 5, 2013

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Ursula Todd is born early on a snowy morning in February 1910 to a banker and his wife in a charming English home named Fox Corner. Or rather, Ursula is delivered still-born and then is promptly born again on a snowy morning in February of 1910.  Thus begin the lives of Ursula who finds new challenges in each life that she lives including: two world wars, death by drowning, almost being asphyxiated by a cat (and her older brother), death by falling off of a roof, an attempt on Hitler's life, domestic abuse, a creepy typing instructor, an illegal abortion, multiple deaths by Spanish Flu (Four times.  Four!), and a dismal marriage- among many other things.  The two sections of the book that are probably the most interesting are the depictions of war time with Ursula as a child whose father has gone to fight in WWI and then as an adult who has joined a rescue unit for civilians during the WWII blitz.  Ursula has extraordinary feelings of deja vu and in most instances these help her to find a way around some sort of potentially traumatic event.  But figments of lives past and the daily life of the present become entwined in a way which is hellish for poor Ursula.  At one point, Ursula ends up in a private clinic and tries her best to explain in as banal a way as possible: 
"Time isn't circular," she said to Dr. Kellet.  "It's like a...palimpsest." 
"Oh dear," he said. "That sounds very vexing."
The reader is never really sure if Ursula's lives will end or if she solves all of the problems that she is meant to.  But that is the way of things, in this book.  The layers of experience never really end.  

It is difficult to tell you a lot about this novel. A lot of critics have been describing this book as Groundhog Day meets The Butterfly Effect or Cloud Atlas.  But this book is more than that.  Though we see Ursula born time and time again, she owns a different personality, has different knowledge and different actions in each life.  We see the ways in which her family members differ in even the smallest of ways.  We see that no matter how hard Ursula works or tries to remedy a situation that life never turns out the way one plans.  I would highly recommend Life After Life to readers who enjoy an interesting non-linear style plot line or have enjoyed Atkinson's other novels.