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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Life After Life

This novel by Kate Atkinson explores might have beens. It is the literary equivalent of the movie Groundhog Day where Bill Murray’s character has to relive the day over and over again. Ursula Todd is born and dies many times. She dies at birth, as a child and as an adult in England and in Germany. Her life might have gone in many different directions and Atkinson explores the alternatives. The narrative is confusing at first but after the first few chapters I adjusted to the leaps in time. Doing life over and over again is daunting but Atkinson manages it well. Outcomes are changed by small details. Ursula dies at birth or does not. She gets pregnant as a result of rape or repels her attacker. She marries an abuser who kills her or... How much of a role does choice play? And there is the Hitler thing:
“Don’t you wonder sometimes, “ Ursula said. “If just one small thing had been changed, in the past, I mean. If Hitler had died at birth, or if someone had kidnapped him as a baby and brought him up in—I don’t know, say a Quaker household—surely things would be different.”
Atkinson's skillful storytelling carries the book and makes it a worthwhile read. But are we supposed to conclude that Ursula learns from each life she lives and is better as a result? I don't think she does. Her earlier novel Behind The Scenes At The Museum also left me thinking that, given the wonderful writing, I should have enjoyed it more. Her Brodie series left me feeling more satisfied..

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