A key message I want to get across in this blog is taking time out to relax; being glued to a screen all day long doesn’t feel particularly healthy, so recently I’ve found a lot of joy in taking time out to read and get lost in a story.
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson, is one of the first books (ever) where I’ve started it, got a couple of hundred pages in and started again. Please don’t let them put you off; I’m so glad I did start again and I wanted to share a book review of it with you today.
The basic premise of Life After Life is what if you had the chance to life your live again and again, until you finally got it right? Would you do it? Would you not? I’ve often wondered about my own paths, the highs and lows and thought if I’d change anything. My answer has always been no – it’s not like I can anyway, but actually I’m where I am today because of all those things. Even if they did hurt me, make me happy, or leave me wondering at the time.
The book starts in 1910 and runs through the first and second world war, often going forward and then jumping back, normally because of a significant event. For a while I had to flip back to the contents page to check where I was; I can absolutely appreciate why that might be off-putting, but it added so much more to the story for me.
The large majority of the book covers World War Two, a passage in history that I’ve always been fascinated with and drawn to in other books I’ve read. When reading I couldn’t help but wonder what other fictional characters were doing, or where they were – the likes of Winters and Easy Company (Band of Brothers), Cecilia and Robbie (Atonement), Pelagia and Antonio (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) to name but a few. Reading about the war feels like it’s part of our generation of fiction and Life After Life looks at the brutality of it in a balanced way.
I’m going to expand on a couple of themes now, so if you haven’t read the book perhaps turn away from this review. I wholeheartedly recommend you give this book a go; it’s the first time I’ve read one of Kate Atkinson’s novels and the level of detail and insight she goes into is a wonder. It made for a truly heartfelt read.
Themes I spotted during Life After Life
The first theme I want to expand on is the strength of Ursula’s character. Given that she was born in 1910, there is expectation (from me, as a reader) for her to fit the mode the rest of her family have – get married as soon as you’re old enough and have lots of children. Yet Ursula never does. Of course certain events give reason to this, but Ursula feels like a character of the 21st century, strong, independent, curious and willing to find her own path. She stands out against the rest of the Todd family for this reason.
As I progressed through the book, to maybe two thirds, in I really began to feel almost home-sick whenever there was mention of Fox Corner. I felt comfortable at Fox Corner, learning the dynamics of the Todd family, events aside, and so when war begins and it takes us to Germany and London (depending on the story) I longed for the comfort and felt an almost desperation to get her back to safety. Speaking of the Todd family, I found it incredibly interesting how glossed over Slyvie’s death was. She began as a character I liked but slowly that turns and it’s actually Hugh we morn for.
Writing this post a day after finishing the book I’m tempted to pick it up again and read it, perhaps hoping for more twists and turns in Ursula’s life. I didn’t feel ready for it to end and felt great sadness in the last 50 or so pages. I could see myself reading it again, a great read.
When proof-reading this post, my boyfriend Stuart said a book review should have a score – what do you think?
If you’ve got this far in my review I’d imagine you’ve read this story – so, what did you think of it? I’ve heard that this isn’t Kate Atkinson’s ‘best’ book, do you agree or disagree? What path Ursula took stuck with you?