Books

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Have you ever wished you could have your time again?

Would you change anything that happened? Change the course of history?

Would you go left or go right?

What if you could keep going back until YOU got it right?

Is your right the same as someone else’s?

Kate Atkinson explores such vast questions through her latest novel. A novel which is far away from her previous Jackson Brodie ones. Here we meet Ursula Todd who is born (or is she) in 1910 in England and we turn each page as she goes through her life and how milestones are reached (or not). Worldwide events are recalled throughout the minutiae of Ursula’s life through her family, her bumptious brother Maurice, Teddy the younger brother who resembles the soft fur like creature a child carries around through childhood and Pamela her sister, the practical thoughtful one with a propensity centred on family life. Into that mix are their parents, Hugh and Sylvie Todd and their rather eccentric embarrassing Aunt Izzie. Mrs Glover and Bridget are the supporting characters in the novel as well as the support that keeps the English family home running, for the Todd’s to reside in.

War, death, class, birth, love, abortion, marriage, friendship, unrequited love is all dealt with and acknowledged in this novel. The descriptions are poignant and graphic when they need to be and subtle and soulful where the reader needs to absorb the beauty of the writing.

This is a clever novel, it has more than one strand to it but you need to be aware that all these strands contain the same people. It was confusing, I felt confused but by sticking with the writing and because I knew the author’s work this drew me in. I really wanted to be able to help at points when Ursula was going down the wrong path, but even if you think that this path may change she may not actually be able to change what has happened. As the book progresses you begin to wonder which is the real story – and actually upon reflection I know what ‘I’ think will be the real story but the next reader might be captured by something else and disagree. This is rather a clever idea and one I was not aware I was experiencing until I was almost at the end of the book.

A book that has stayed with me long after I have finished it and actually one that needs rereading and will certainly be featured on many award longlists and shortlists I am sure in the coming months.

Whilst this book does feature a ‘big’ house and the relationship between servants and masters it is very much a long way from anything of a Downton Abbey – esque type novel which some are comparing it to. The house is the centre to which many if not all of the characters are drawn to and go from throughout the book at differing parts of their lives but it is not a book that wholly exhibits and concentrates what class life was within a house.

It is a story of a family, one that is involved in war, both the first and the second and if you strip away the actual point of reliving parts of your life again it is a very good reflection of an upper class family who are affected by worldwide events and I enjoyed this part of the book immensely.

I can see this book being excellent for Book Clubs – it has the challenging element of the read, brought by the reliving of the chapters and the transitions backwards and forwards through from 1910 to the latest in 1967 but it has so much to discuss about how life could have been if certain actions had not been taken by Ursula and those around her.

I come to write this review some 6 weeks after I have finished the actual book and it has been a struggle for many different reasons. I was worried I would give so much away about the book and spoil the enjoyment of many others?  But then I did not want to acknowledge that actually I had finished the book and it was time to let it go. I made some scribbled notes about the book to spur me on into reviewing it and actually I have covered those points in my review but still feel perhaps it is lacking.

Perhaps I need to take the chance to read the book again and get the review right?