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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

You again? Or: A Review of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Book Type: British fiction, Groundhog Day, haven't I been here before?

Predictability Factor: Well, sort of.  

Cover Art: Well... No to the American cover (creepy roses?), yes to both UK covers (snow/fox).  

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: pre-war George Glover, Teddy and Howie/Derek.

Character Score: 6.5 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers.

What's the Story?: Ursula Todd is born and dies.  Over and over again.  Perhaps she can change her future or the future of others if she could just figure out how...

X-Factor: Um, can I have a do-over?


US Edition


UK Edition


Another UK Edition or paperback version?

Predictability Factor: In the fact that other people have written story lines where characters keep dying and coming back to correct their mistakes.  But the similarities end there.

Cover Art: Honestly hate the American cover.  Has next to nothing to do with the book.  I much prefer the UK edition where there is a bunch of snow (there is a snowstorm the night Ursula is born and um, reborn) and a mysterious doorway.  This catches the mood of the book much more than the roses which, I have to say, make this book look like a murder mystery (which it is NOT).  The last cover is also fine since there is A. snow and B. a fox (the home where Ursula grows up is called Fox Corner and there are foxes running about).  So there's my very scientific analysis of the various versions of cover art.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Well, the pre-war description of George Glover sounds like a harlequin description of a cowboy or ranch hand.  That's about as nice a description of a man as we're going to get in this book.  I'll take it.  Teddy, the second Todd brother, just seems so awesome.  Who wouldn't want marry that guy?  But Howie?  Seriously.  What the hell is wrong with you?  Not sure what psychiatric term fits the bill but you are really messed up.  Ditto on Mr. Derek Oliphant.  What a terrible, terrible creep.

Character Score: Atkinson does a good job of giving you the thoughts of many of the characters in this strange novel.  What I love most, I think, is that Ursula seems to be a completely different person/personality each time she is reborn.  Made for a very interesting read.

What's the Story?: 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), sexual assault, death by falling off of a roof, an attempt on Hitler's life, domestic abuse, a creepy typing instructor, an illegal abortion, and multiple deaths by Spanish Flu (Four times.  Four!).  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 blitz.  Ursula has extraordinary feelings of deja vu and in most instances these help her to find away 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 hard 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 is a different personality, has different knowledge and different actions.  We see the ways in which her family members differ (no matter how slightly) life after life.  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.

X-Factor: Who hasn't wanted a do-over at some point in life? This book is like your wish being granted by the devil and then he "forgets" to tell you that this is the result of your wish.  So the general rules of thumb when wishing something should be: 1. No wishing for more wishes.  2. Don't make a wish at the same time as your mom. 3. BE VERY SPECIFIC!

Life After Life is available in all fine US bookstores as of today.  I received my advanced copy via NetGalley.

Happy reading, folks.

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