Sunday, March 1, 2015
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Published April 2013 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: purchased my copy of the audiobook
Narrator: Fenella Woolgar
What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.
Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can -- will she?
Found on many "best of" lists in 2013, for some reason I just couldn't make myself pick it up. I hardly even read reviews of it. You know that movie "Groundhog's Day?" That's what I kept imagining. And while I sort of love that movie, I had no interest in reading a book with a similar premise. And then I read a review of it (oh how I wish I could remember which one of you lovely people wrote that review!) which convinced me to give it a chance. When last I made the journey to my local Half Price Bookstore, I chanced to find an audio copy of it and swooped it up.
I loved this book. Except, perhaps, for a tiny bit of disappointment in the ending. Still, it was my first five-star book of the year (my Goodreads rating). The narration was superb and played a big part in my enjoyment of the book but, as I wrote on Goodreads, my ranking there would have been the same, I believe, if I had read it in print. While the idea of getting more than one chance to live your life is not a unique idea where books are concerned, Atkinson's approach seems to stand alone.
Poor Ursula dies at birth, survives at birth only thanks to quick thinking, and is born healthy and vital. She dies as a young girl. She dies as a result of abuse. She dies in London during a German bombing raid. Terrible things happen to her and those she loves throughout her life but then don't happen in the next version of her life thanks to some small change in Ursula's own behavior. It can be very confusing and more than once I was certain I had put the wrong disc in as a scene plays in a new life nearly exactly has it did in a previous life. I'm certain I would have been flipping back and forth in the book if I had read it in print.
What truly makes Ursula unique in the world of those who've lived their lives again and again is that she has some memory of the previous lives. It's not a clear memory, just some faint hint that makes her, for example, try again and again to prevent the Spanish flu from coming into her family's life. It's clear to her parents that somethings not quite right, ending Ursula up in counseling with a man who might just know what she's going through.
So, so many things to think about with Life After Life. I rarely reread a book and have never "reread" an audiobook. Life After Life will be the first.