Finished Kate Atkinson’s novel last night around 2-ish, and I felt so rumpled about it, I decided I should throw it up for discussion here. [This review is pretty much spoiler-free, but I expect to address actual plot items in the comments, so you may want to avoid reading those if you plan to read this story one day..]
I’d heard many good things about LIFE AFTER LIFE before reading, but the story ended up being nothing remotely like what I expected. Don’t get me wrong — Atkinson is a lovely writer, with a gift for an ascerbic turn of phrase that made me laugh out loud more than once.
However, this is NOT a funny book. Taken as historical fiction, it is a heart-breaking look at the immensity of the loss the English middle classes suffered during the two largest wars of the twentieth century. It veers sharply away from nostalgia, with even the pastoral pre-war years being pretty much fraught with unexpected cataclysm underlying the every day life of its protagonist Ursula Todd.
[There is a small side-note equating Ursula’s patronym with a fox — Tod — but it’s more likely the German etymology that Atkinson was employing here…]
Though I might have a quarrel with the way the story unfolds (particularly in the tricky middle chapters), and some of the world-building choices made by the author; by the end of the story I came to accept LIFE AFTER LIFE as a rumination on Ursula’s search for herself. I wasn’t satisfied by the ending, and I’m pretty sure that was the intention, but I will remember this book, without question. It will live on in my mind as a sort of unsatisfactory, double-exposed snapshot of the first half of the twentieth century, awash in all the ghosts of what might have been.
Have you read LIFE AFTER LIFE? What did you think? Let’s talk it out in the comments!