Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life 1

Transworld Digital|March 2013|Print length 477 pages| e-book|5*

I am delighted to say that I loved Life After Life. I wasn’t at all sure that I would as I began reading it soon after I bought it (in 2013) and didn’t get very far before I decided to put it to one side for a while. A ‘while’ became years – and then at the end of 2016 I read A God in Ruins about Ursula’s brother Teddy, and loved it and decided to try Life After Life again. But, even so it has taken me until this September to get round to reading it. I can’t imagine what my problem with it was in 2013, because this time round once I’d started it I just knew I had to read it and I was immediately engrossed in the story.

Ursula Todd was born on 11 February 1910 at Fox Corner during a wild snowstorm. In the first version she was born before the doctor and the midwife arrived and she died, strangled by the umbilical cord around her neck. But in the second version the doctor had got there in time and saved her life, using a pair of small surgical scissors to snip the cord

During the book Ursula dies many deaths and there are several different versions that her life takes over the course of the twentieth century – through both World Wars and beyond. Each time as she approaches death she experiences a vague unease, before the darkness falls. As she grows older she experiences different outcomes to the events that lead up to that feeling of unease, and finds that sometimes she can prevent the darkness from falling. By the end of the book I had a complete picture of a life lived to the full. I loved the way she experiences the same circumstances but because one little thing is changed it completely changes the whole sequence of events.

There is a constant thread throughout the book – the Todd family, Ursula’s mother, Sylvie, her father, Hugh, her aunt, Izzie, and her brothers and sisters, plus the family servants and friends. They all play more or less significant roles throughout Ursula’s life. It’s a large cast of characters but I had no difficulty in distinguishing them – they all felt ‘real’, partly I think because Atkinson is so good at depicting family life and relationships.

I would love to know more about several of the characters – Izzie, for one – Hugh’s wild bohemian sister, who Sylvie called a ‘cuckoo’ and Mrs Glover described as a ‘Flibbertigibbet’. Then there is Sylvie herself, who I found quite a mysterious character – in particular one of the chapters describing Ursula’s birth very near the end of the book set my imagination working overtime- what had Sylvie known and how? There is more about Ursula’s youngest brother, Teddy in A God In Ruins and I think I’ll have to re-read it soon to see what further light it throws on all the characters.

In some ways it is a tragic book – particularly the parts set during the war years. They are brilliantly written bringing the full of horror of war into focus; some of the standout scenes  are those in London during the Blitz. And it’s interesting to speculate how different the history of the twentieth century could have been if Hitler had been assassinated in 1930. The whole book is full of ‘what ifs’ – what if this character had behaved differently, what if that had not happened, what if you’d made a different choice of subject to study or a different career, or married a different person?  

In fact I think the whole book is excellent, well researched and with such a different structure so well done that it kept me glued to the pages. I wish I’d read it earlier – but it obviously wasn’t the right time for me to read it then.

Reading challenges: Mount TBR

My Friday Post: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is one of my TBRs  and is one of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list. It’s about Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. I bought it 5 years ago and have started reading it more than once, but have never finished it. But ever since I read and loved A God in Ruins about Ursula’s brother Teddy, I have been meaning to pick it up again.

Life after life

 

November 1930

A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the café. She had come in from the rain and drops of water still trembled like delicate dew on the fur coats of some of the women inside. A regiment of white-aproned waiters rushed around at tempo, serving the needs of the Münchner at leisure – coffee, cake and gossip.

So far, this time round I think this may be the right time for me to read this book.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

On the way home, Pamela carried both baby rabbits in her pinafore, holding it out proudly in front of her like Bridget with a tea-tray.

‘Look at you,’ Hugh said when they walked wearily through the garden gate. ‘Golden and kissed by the sun. You look like real countrywomen.’

‘More red than gold, I’m afraid,’ Sylvie said ruefully.

Blurb:

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

If you have read this book I’d love to know what you think about it. And if you haven’t, would you keep reading?

First Chapter, First Paragraph

First chapter

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or planning to read soon.

My opener this week is from A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson:A God in Ruins (Todd Family, #2)

30 March 1944

The Last Flight

Naseby

He walked as far as the hedge that signalled the end of the airfield.

The beating of the bounds. The men referred to it as ‘his daily constitutional’ and fretted when he didn’t take it. They were superstitious. Everyone was superstitious.

Blurb:

“He had been reconciled to death during the war and then suddenly the war was over and there was a next day and a next day. Part of him never adjusted to having a future.”

Kate Atkinson’s dazzling Life After Life explored the possibility of infinite chances and the power of choices, following Ursula Todd as she lived through the turbulent events of the last century over and over again.

A GOD IN RUINS tells the dramatic story of the 20th Century through Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy–would-be poet, heroic pilot, husband, father, and grandfather-as he navigates the perils and progress of a rapidly changing world. After all that Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is living in a future he never expected to have.

An ingenious and moving exploration of one ordinary man’s path through extraordinary times, A GOD IN RUINS proves once again that Kate Atkinson is one of the finest novelists of our age.

I haven’t read Life After Life, so I’m hoping that won’t matter and that this book will read well as a standalone. If you’ve read it what do you think?

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson: Book Notes

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson is the fourth book featuring Jackson Brodie and one in which he doesn’t have a major role. It’s a complex book with several plots and sub-plots. The narrative moves between the past and the present day – sometimes not too clearly and is told from various characters’ perspective.

Jackson Brodie is working for Hope McMaster, who was adopted as a very young child in the 1970s and wants to find out about her birth family. Tracy Waterhouse, an ex-police officer is working as a security post in a shopping centre and can’t forget about a particular murder that had happened when she was a young detective. Detective Superintendent Barry Crawford,Tracy’s ex-colleague, with now just two weeks to go before retirement is also haunted by past events. Tilly is an elderly actress, suffering from the early stages of dementia. Add in to this mix a small child, Courtney and a little dog, called The Ambassador.

The book begins slowly and gradually builds to a tremendous pace. Brodie’s past keeps surfacing as he travels around in his search for Hope’s family roots, staying at Travel Lodges at Premier Inns, and in Bed and Breakfasts. He’s tired:

And truth be told he was tired of his vagrant life. He wanted a home. He would like a woman in that home. Not all the time, he had grown too used to his own company. (page 103)

There’s a lot in this novel about grief and loss, parenthood and responsibility and it paints a grim picture. The characters are well-drawn – the ex-copTracy, the child Courtney and the actress Tilly stand out in my mind as memorable characters, not forgetting The Ambassador, a small scruffy dog, who is ‘big inside‘.

It’s very much a book about consequences, full of regrets and lost opportunities as it moves, seemingly without reason from one character to another and from the past to the present. It’s a book you have to read with thought and concentration. I think It would benefit from re-reading, but my copy is a library book, due back today. Maybe I’ll re-read it one day.

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan (17 Feb 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552772461
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552772464
  • Source:  library book
  • My Rating: 4/5

Crime Fiction Alphabet – O is for One Good Turn

letter OWe have reached the letter O in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet and my book this week is:

One Good Turn (Jackson Brodie #2)

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

This is the second of her Jackson Brodie series. I read Case Histories, the first one, a few years ago and the third one, When Will There be Good News? just over 2 years ago, both of which I thought were excellent. So I had great expectations that this would be equally as good. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think it is. It is good and I enjoyed it but I thought it was over complicated, especially at the beginning with so many different seemingly unrelated characters being introduced. It’s only near the end that you find out the connections and interactions between them all. And the ending did take me by surprise – a neat twist.

My problem with this book that I’d just get interested in one strand of the story and want to find out what happened next, when the action shifted to another set of characters. There is also too much detail, background information and flashbacks holding up the action for me to say it’s an excellent book.

But it is still a book that I had to finish; I had to find out what happened and work out the puzzle, because it is a puzzle. Like the Russian dolls within dolls (which also feature in this book), there is a thread connecting it all together. Set over four days an awful lot happens changing the characters lives for ever.

It’s summer in Edinburgh at Festival time when people queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road rage incident after Paul Bradley brakes suddenly to avoid hitting a pedestrian. The driver of the Honda behind him attacks his car with a baseball bat and then attacks Paul himself.  The one good turn comes from Martin Canning, the author of the Nina Riley mysteries, who stops the attack by throwing his laptop bag at the Honda driver hitting him on the shoulder.

One of the people in the queue is Jackson Brodie, who doesn’t want to get involved but who nevertheless gives Martin his mobile number and noted the Honda’s registration number. Amongst other witnesses are Gloria, the wife of an unscrupulous property developer, and her friend Pam. I got to like Gloria, a very sympathetically drawn character. Numerous other characters are involved – Jackson’s actress girlfriend, a failing comedian, exploited Eastern European workers for a housecleaning/escort agency called Favours, and Sergeant Louise Monroe and her teenage son, Archie, amongst others.

It’s complicated and full of coincidences, a very cleverly plotted book and as Jackson says:

A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen.

One Good Turn is also my entry in Beth’s What’s In a Name Challenge – a book with a number in the title.

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; Reprint edition (22 July 2010)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0552772445
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552772440