Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
I really like Kate Atkinson’s writing style. In Life After Life we follow the life and death of Ursula Todd again and again and again as Atkinson explores different possible ways that Ursula’s life could differ within the constraints of being born a girl in rural England just before the onset of WWI. I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone reading this so I’m not going to give a plot summary. And plot summaries can be found in most ‘reviews’. Instead I’ll share my reflections on the book.
The slates were slick with ice and Ursula had barely placed her small, slippered foot on the slope beneath the window before it slid out from under her. She let out a little cry… There was no parapet to buffer her descent, nothing at all to stop her being propelled into the black wings of night. A kind of rush, a thrill almost, as she was launched into the bottomless air and then nothing.
Do you remember reading Choose Your Own Adventure stories when you were a child? Well imagine that the story was really well written and the characters believable, interesting dialogue and gripping plot and that the heroine gets more and more chances to live her life. That’s Life After Life.
I was gripped by the book. I didn’t want to go to work because I wanted to read instead. I delayed dinner with my family to just read a couple of pages. A few times my family heard the refrain of ‘They are being bombed. I just want to read a little bit more.’ It took a little while to readjust to normal life once I finished reading the book. I’ve deliberately not started another novel yet, partly because I wanted to write these reflections first, while it’s still fresh in my mind but also because I want time and space in my mind without always thinking about what I’m reading and wondering what’s going to happen and when I’ll have time to read.
Previously I read A God in Ruins, also by Atkinson, which I also loved. That book followed the life of Teddy, who is Ursula’s sweet younger brother. I wish that I had read it after Life After Life rather than before. It’s obvious that Atkinson liked the thought of following the path of Teddy in one of the what if scenarios created in Life After Life. I think that my reading of A God in Ruins would have been richer if I read it in the context of Life After Life. Not to worry because I loved both of the books on their own merits.
I really like the character of Sylvie, who is Ursula’s mother. A few times Ursula rolls her eyes at Sylvie but I think that most of what Sylvie says is quite true and I wasn’t sure what irritated Ursula about her. Perhaps it’s just the typical mild irritation that girls feel, at times, towards their mothers. Sylvie is a remarkable and progressive female character considering that she was born in Victorian times. She is resourceful, adaptable and speaks her mind. By contrast her sister-in-law Izzie is portrayed as an irresponsible airhead and narcissistic flapper. Sylvie is surprisingly confronted by and perhaps threatened by Izzie and takes aim at her with her words at every occasion she can find. That’s the main fault that I could see in Sylvie’s personality.
She turned up on the doorstep on Christmas Eve (invited but not expected) and declared herself to be ‘in a bit of a jam’, a state which necessitated her being closeted in the growlery with (her brother) Hugh, to emerge an hour later looking almost chastened. She had brought no presents with her and smoked throughout Christmas dinner, picking listlessly at her food. ‘Annual income twenty pounds, ‘ Hugh said when Bridget brought the brandy-soaked pudding to the table. ‘Annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. ‘
I knew that the German bombing of London was extensive and damaging and went on night after night for a long time. I hadn’t really tried to imagine what that felt like though until I read Atkinson’s thoughtful imaginings of Ursula’s terrible experiences in London during WWII.
Atkinson’s writing impresses me. What did you think of the book?