Life After Life

lifeafterlifeLife After Life
by Kate Atkinson
2013 / 544 pages
read by Fenella Woolgar 15h 34m
rating:   7   (historical/speculative fiction)

Well,  I’m 2 hours into this and so far nothing has happened at all –  only a foreshadowing kind of  introduction to it all  with a baby dying in Chapter 1.  I’ve heard good things about this book.

So what we have so far is a nice upper-middle class British family during the first years of the 20th century – nicely historical,  Sylvie (mom) is a kind of fun character who worries about her family and the war.   So far we see the action through her pov.   What else – picnics and books and new neighbors and various forms of small wildlife,  domesticated and not.  The other family  characters are  husband/Daddy  Hugh, and the children,  Pamela,  Teddy,  Ursula and Maurice.    These folks eat, sleep, play, have babies – Mrs. Glover is the cook.   Then that baby who died? Ursula?   She’s reborn – properly.    I’ve heard good things about this book.

I think the paper version might be easier to understand because there are no chapter titles or numbers and quite often the breaks in white space notify a reader of a possible big change,  and there are lots and lots of big changes in this book,  although nothing much happens.  There are dates sometimes – very helpful.   The changes are literary changes,  era changes, whole plot changes and what the author has to do to untangle the plot-schema.   It took me while to really “get” the metafiction theme  and I think that’s a huge part of the reason  some folks really enjoyed the book.  Other folks probably enjoyed idea of reincarnation – a few might have appreciated the ending    I’ve heard good things about this book.

Okay – 3 hours – Ursula has started dying and being reborn (as promised in the blurbs).   Now what –  pretty much the “same old – same old.”   The suspense is in the expectation of another sudden death/rebirth.    Jimmy is born and a couple of other characters are introduced.   Times change.  We get to catch up on all the characters as we go through the book and others are introduced – Izzie is Hugh’s sister who has a small child – she’s a bit of a wild one.  Sylvie, the mom,  is certainly a “character.”

The young Ursula has feelings of deja vu from time to time.  She has been seeing Doctor Kellet,  a psychiatrist,  since she was 10 because she seems to know the future.  She likes him, enjoys  going to him,  and he discusses reincarnation with her.

Ursula dies from a variety of causes,  illness, beating, falls, bombings.  There is really a LOT of death in this book.  She seems to learn her lesson in some kind of way (or the universe does) and get that part done right when she comes back,  but how many ways can a person die and come back to the same general life?   This is really boring.

I will admit that Atkinson did take a huge risk writing a book in which there is no linear plot – even scattered around – where history gets changed.  She may have let the reader in on a great chunk of what an author does – right up to rewriting history.    I read somewhere that that there’s a pay-off for patience and reading to the end, so … I’ve heard good things about this book.

Oh dear – how many chapters of  WW2 have there been now?  How many lovers has this woman had?   Or maybe this time it’s something else ?? –  Only 3 more hours to go.  How many die?

I finished – it was not worth the hype – but I tend to be allergic to hype.    Stephen King’s 1962 gave me better ideas about time travel and different ways to look at possible changes to the setting – how a new parallel universe might spin off.

There’s an error in this one – it’s a major error  scientifically,  but of no importance to the novel.  Somewhere that doctor who is interested in reincarnation says that time has no dimension,  no direction – that it flows everywhere.  This is not true.  Time has a direction – it’s called the “arrow of time.”   We know it’s there because it can’t go backwards,  omelets cannot become eggs ever again.   Entropy is a reality of the universe.   Atkinson didn’t have to mention this time business  at all –  there could be parallel universes spun off  because of a change in one –  (someone touched the butterfly wings).    This would mean that one universe goes on as we know it,  while another universe,  in which Kennedy doesn’t die (1963),  gets spun off.

7/8 –  having reread this and done a bit of rethinking and editing I’ve had to up my original rating –  on a literary level Atkinson’s book is rather interesting because  of the structure and authorial process.   New approaches or ideas in post-modern lit are few and far between these days – Atkinson may have found one.

3 Responses to Life After Life

  1. Beth says:

    Hmmm. well, I’m going to read this for an upcoming book club. At least I’m forewarned. I’ve heard it’s good tho…!


  2. Well, hi, Beth – 🙂 Go ahead and give it a shot – I’m in a distinct minority in not liking it, but iI was reading for a group too, and they read my choices so … (heh)

    (Btw, rereading my post I’m embarrassed at my – we’ll call them typos. – I think it’s time to edit.)

    Happy reading –


  3. I edited and in the process upped the rating a point. I guess it just took a bit of re-thinking. Thanks. 🙂


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