Life After Life (Todd Family, #1)by Published 02 Apr 2013
|Life After Life (Todd Family, #1).pdf|
|Publisher||Reagan Arthur Books|
What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?
On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.
Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can - will she?
"Life After Life (Todd Family, #1)" Reviews
kate atkinson has written a lovely, accordion-fold of a novel here.
this is not a jackson brodie novel, which are always much better than your typical detective novels, (even though i haven't read the last one yet - merp), but this one is just so much more ambitious in scope and style than even those gems.
it is sublime.
at its most simplistic, it is about ursula, a character who will be born and die all in the first two pages. (excluding what i am considering to be a prologue) and then again. and again. she will die from falling off a roof, from drowning, from gas-inhalation, but she will be reborn again to live a collage of different lives, but always as ursula, and always surrounded by the same family. sometimes she can remember her past go-rounds, in hazy half-memories, and sometimes she can remember more, but this is not some hippy-dippy exploration of spiritual reincarnation. i have never read a book that is more human, more terrestrial. it is not necessarily about "getting it right" although you cheer inside every time she manages to avoid the decisions that led to some of her more horrifying deaths. it is more about our possible paths, about family, about history.it is about ripples and traps and the horrors of war.
and, oh, war. i have read many books about england during wartime, whether it be I or II. but never have i read one with more immediacy than this one. she does such a fantastic job with this particular material. not just the parts that you would think i would respond to, being of a ghoulish bent. the "recovery of the bodies" scenes were very graphic and haunting and shivery, yes, but i found myself responding not to the shocking descriptions, but more to the quieter scenes, the ones which are focused on the national character during wartime.
the englishness of this novel is just brilliant. there is such a pervading sense of "one does as one must and then one has tea" throughout.
On the way back from lunch, Sylvie said she wanted to visit Oberpollingers and buy a present for Hugh. When they reached the department store they found the windows daubed with anti-Jewish slogans and Sylvie said, "Gracious, what a mess." The shop was open for business but a pair of grinning louts in SA uniform were loitering in front of the doors, putting people off from entering. Not Sylvie, who had marched past the Brownshirts while Ursula reluctantly trailed in her wake into the store and up the thickly carpeted staircase. In the face of the uniforms, Ursula had shrugged a cartoon helplessness and murmured rather shamefacedly, "She's English." She thought that Sylvie didn't understand what it was like living in Germany but in retrospect she thought that perhaps Sylvie had understood very well.
i love that passage, on at least three different levels. the brisk insouciance of a mother accustomed to living in an imperial nation, the shame of a transplanted daughter living in a changing country whose climate she is becoming a part of, but doesn't yet fully understand, and the latent judgment passing as ignorance.
and this, which perfectly sums up the english spirit:
"No point in thinking," she said briskly, "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."
i loved that about this book. it is practical, unhysterical perfection. there is a determination to these characters in the face of horrors and lives lived always on the brink of destruction that is admirable and almost uplifting. you know, if it weren't for all the bombs.
this book killed me, it really did. and then i was reborn, as a reader. it is such a labor of love; you can feel how much thought atkinson put into it, with all of its carefully-sprinkled echoes from former life-plots, and how lovingly-rendered are even the smallest supporting characters (mr. emslie!! ♥).
obviously, i love izzie, the free-spirited drunken floozie of an aunt, even though she is such a selfish character. but that's kind of what this book is about - how when we are living our lives, we miss a great deal of what is happening around us, and if we had a chance to step back, to see the bigger picture, we might make different decisions, and in some cases, we could change the course of history.which sounds trite, but kate atkinson is a much more accomplished writer than i am, and this book is an absolute triumph.
you will have to wait until april to read this, unless you are greg, and are getting it friday, and then it will be mailed off to canada to bill. and it is a beautiful-looking arc:
so i am sad to see it go, but one does as one must.
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
Ursula Todd is born in a snowstorm in England in 1910 but dies before she can take her first breath. During that same snowstorm she was born again and lives to tell the tale; again and again. Life after Life tells the story of Ursula’s lives, as with each new life she makes small changes that send her on a completely different path.
I feel like I’m the only person on the planet that thought this book was overhyped and over rated. Sure Kate Atkinson has this trippy ability to create this bleak world while still managing to add some wit and compassion but it wasn’t the writing that was at fault. The premise of the book makes it sound really good but let’s face it; it is just Groundhog Day in disguise. The book is clever, but it tries too hard to be clever and it didn’t really turn out the way it should have; for me anyway. This book is getting so many rave reviews, I feel like I am a black sheep just telling people it did not work.
As I said before, there is nothing wrong with the writing; Kate Atkinson has created this lyrical narrative and I did find myself being swept away in the words. I even felt like at times I was reading this book without thinking about what was happening; a few times I had to stop and process before continuing. I almost found myself not noticing a death and Ursula’s life starting again and that could have got me completely lost. I did feel like Kate Atkinson did however overdo the twists and it turned out to be a roundabout way to retell the same story over and over again with different outcomes. This could have worked; and it sounds like it worked for many people but I sadly wasn’t one of them.
I wonder if Kate Atkinson was trying something different and experimental where she could play with the character’s death and life, explore the concept of life’s choices and their consequences but because there were no real penalty to Ursula’s life I wonder if it really worked? Do you ever have déjà vu? (I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen) Life after Life just seems to repeat the same scenes, some readers might gain a sense of familiarity and for me it just felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere.
Life after Life is the kind of book you should probably read in a real cold climate; the snowy, dark and sometimes bleakness of the novel seems to call for it. Maybe read snuggled up on a dark winters night and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today (It’s coooold out there every day. What is this, Miami Beach?). It is just the book that would work better in the cold; though it is never cold here in Townsville, maybe that’s why it didn’t work for me.
I really wanted to enjoy this book; I will try another Kate Atkinson novel because I really think she has a great style. Just so happened Life after Life was not for me and I know people loved this book and will probably complain about this review but at least it was just an excuse to put some Groundhog Day quotes into something. This book has had so many positive reviews so maybe it is just me, if the book sounds like something you’d like then don’t let this review stop you, is it too early for flapjacks?
This review originally appeared on my blog; http://www.knowledgelost.org/book-rev...
Chances are you’ve already heard about the device Atkinson used to tell this remarkable story. It was February of 1910 when baby Ursula died at birth, but she was granted a narrative do-over. Next time the doctor made it through the snowstorm to sever the umbilical cord that was strangling her. She also got another chance after tumbling from the roof trying to reach a doll her malignant older brother had thrown there. Similar life after death sequences played out after a seaside drowning, the Spanish flu, and various war-time atrocities. Some might call this a gimmick, but that seems too pejorative a term to me. In Atkinson’s capable hands it was a wonderful tool that allowed her to play "what if", to explore subtle changes with far-reaching consequences (though butterflies and chaos were never mentioned), as well as to evaluate moral trade-offs where alternative scenarios improve the lot of some to the detriment of others.
The way I’ve described this so far you might imagine that Punxsutawney Phil and a very resigned Bill Murray would feature at every turn. But it wasn’t really like that. For one thing, the story didn’t always revert back to square one (where the Sonny and Cher equivalent might have been playing on the gramophone). Plus, there were exogenous differences in each scenario, separate from Ursula’s actions. A better analogy might be how we navigate our way through a maze, proceeding until we reach a dead end and backtracking to the point where we can follow a different path. But even that’s not quite right. With the maze, we know where the decision points are. At best, Ursula had dim recollections of previous paths taken – a vague sense of déjà vu. Atkinson scored literary points for the artful abstractions of these foggy memories.
Before I get too carried away with the device, which I suspect had to do with a huge inventory of ready-to-use death scenes Atkinson wanted to employ ;-) , I should mention what I consider to be even better selling points: the story, the characters and the setting. As fans of her Jackson Brodie books will attest, Atkinson is a master of crime drama. She was not about to short-shrift us on plot. Each snippet of Ursula’s life (or, more appropriately, lives) had plenty going on including creative avoidance of paths we knew from before wouldn’t work. Her relationships with men got appreciably better in later iterations once she got past her teenage naivety and some very unwelcome advances. Many of the most poignant storylines derived from the hardship of the setting – England spanning the two world wars. You might imagine that air raids, deprivation, and loss of loved ones would leave little time for character development beyond a collective stiffness of upper lips, but you’d be wrong. Ursula herself was insightful, empathetic, philosophical and poetic. Her family members, including a larger-than-life aunt who struck it big with a children’s book series, had memorable traits as well; all of them recognizably human. Friends and co-workers were given enough personality to be interesting, too. That was even true of the German ones.
Speaking of Germans, there was one in particular that authors of do-overs consistently wish dead. Atkinson was no exception (which I don’t consider a spoiler since it was taken up in the first two pages). It is a fascinating question, even if over-asked. What if he had been killed before he had influence? How many lives would have been spared? What would our culture be like had there been no Holocaust? Or, as Ursula wondered, what if the US had not spent its way out of the Depression during the war and become the dominant purveyor of goods and lifestyles. (Cheeky lady, implying it would be better. But I have to ask: how fast would her food be now? And how much reality would her TV feature?)
I really liked this book. Typically I’m suspicious of devices that quantum physics, even at its strangest, can’t explain. But this one felt right. In a time when life was too easily lost, in a place where the war seeped into too many homes, it seemed appropriate that a work of fiction would offer some therapeutic revamping. All the more so after Atkinson personalized it for us, putting a likable lady with multifold potential in the middle of it all. And if one of the goals of personal development is to choose optimal paths, it’s helpful to see a template where repeated trials over similar circumstances lead to better decisions and an older soul.
Ursula Todd is born in the midst of a blizzard in 1910, not once, but many times, during the course of her life - living only to die and be born again, repeatedly, traveling many paths until she lives the life she was meant to live.
Kate Atkinson's writing is superb, and lyrical enough that it carried me through to the end of this book. The plot, however, left me floundering for weeks, trying desperately to claw my way to the end of this depressing tale. While the premise - reincarnation and destiny - is interesting, the execution left me frustrated.
The early chapters of the book are very short, as Ursula is born, dies, and is reborn again with rapid succession. With each successive life, she lives longer (in most cases) and is developed more and more as a character. The choppy format of the early chapters make it difficult to get attached to Ursula, but as she lives longer, it becomes more and more apparent that she lives a sad, depressing life. In addition, as a result of her continued rebirth, it's difficult to become attached to her, or to feel any real regret or sadness at her passing. Also strange is that, as often as you meet them throughout Ursula's life, her siblings never really become fully realized characters. As they move in and out of her life, these siblings play important roles in the paths she follows, yet they remain rather one-dimensional, as though Atkinson couldn't be bothered to spend the time on them.
The book was also a bit too meandering in its plot. Lives that led no where interesting or important wandered on for far too long, while lives that seemed to be leading somewhere ended abruptly, only to pick up again to follow another pointless path. Perhaps this was Atkinson's exploration of the capricious nature of fate, but it made for some rough reading. About 100 pages of this novel could have been trimmed and it would only have improved the quality. Forty of those hundred pages should have been the last forty of the book - the last few "lives" lived by Ursula were confusing and unnecessary to the novel.
All in all, the writing was exactly what you'd expect from Atkinson (wonderful), but the story itself was confusing, lifeless, and somewhat empty. A hundred fewer pages, a different ending, and more fully fleshed-out secondary characters would have resulted in a 4 star book for me.
(I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a review.)
I wanted to like this book. I wish I could enjoy it. I bought it with such enthusiasm, and couldn't wait to start reading it. But alas, I sensed almost at the very start that it wasn't going to be a happy relationship - a point confirmed by mid-way through the book.
The length, the repetitive scenes, the incredible number of times Ursula dies and is reborn, are all tedious and terrible torment to get through. 2/3rds in, I found myself offended for having my time wasted. Surely Atkinson could show the courtesy of not subjecting her readers to so many repetitive scenarios.
I cannot fault Atkinson's writing nor do I have any particular dislike for her characters (I rather liked Izzy the best). But the plot lost my interest fairly early on and by the end, I positively wanted to hurl it at a wall (I didn't. I'm rather fond of my walls).
My apologies for offending anyone with this review. I understand our tastes are subjective and many simply adore this book. But I'm not one of them.