I think Kate Atkinson is a brilliant writer. Her Jackson Brodie detective books are a favourite series. With her latest release Life After Life, she takes things in a different direction.....
Ursula Todd is born on a snowy night in February 1910. And dies the same night. And is born again. And dies again. Over and over.
But each 'life' is a little different. Different choices, different choices and directions taken each time change the course of not just Ursula's life, but of those around her and those whose lives she touches. At first she is not aware of these incarnations, but as they repeat...
"...and sometimes, too, she knew what someone was about to say before they said it or what mundane incident was about to occur - if a dish was about to be dropped or an apple thrown through a glasshouse, as if these things had happened many times before. Words and phrases echoed themselves, strangers seemed like old acquaintances."
Atkinson starts us off slowly, with small changes and subtle alterations to the timeline. Each time though, Ursula lives a little longer and the path is altered. I loved the back and forth story telling. Each time I wondered what would change next. As I read, I often wondered what would I have changed? Can Ursula truly change the course of her life every time? And is every change for the better? Better for her or better for others? What about changing the course of history? Atkinson takes her tale through the war years many times - all again with many different outcomes. This part of the book was brilliant - the details and the settings crackle with authenticity and lent this tumultuous time a very personal and real view. The Blitz came to life for me with Atkinson's telling.
Ursula is a wonderful character - human, flawed, funny, pragmatic and wonderfully drawn. The Todd household is made up of just as many fascinating personalities. I was particularly drawn to Ursula's brother Teddy and her father Hugh. Again, the amount of detail woven in and around these lives is captivating. But small, seemingly insignificant details are the things that don't seem to change from life to life - a little black cat brooch with a rhinestone for an eye, a dog's name, a picture on a wall - just their context in the story.
Life After Life is brilliant on so many levels - the story, the characters and the exploration of family, fate and destiny.
I initially raced through the first few chapters and then stepped back to slowly take my time finishing Life After Life. It was just too good to finish quickly and I enjoyed stopping after the snow falls (the end of Ursula's current life) to ponder what had happened and imagine where Atkinson might go next. And I was never able to guess right. There are turns I didn't see coming, changes I didn't like, passages that left me breathless and above all - stories to be savoured. Which one is the final ending? Who knows? Deliciously, Atkinson leaves that up to our own imagination.
"No point in thinking, you just have to get on with life. We only have one after all, we should try and do our best. We can never get it right, but we must try." "What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?"
.....what if?..... Read an excerpt of Life After Life. You can find Kate Atkinson on Facebook