Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Kate Atkinson - Life After Life

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.
What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?
Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

Comment: I'm not the type of reader to go after all the bestsellers or the award winners out there but I do have a look at Goodreads readers' choices, usually at the end of the year. This book was the fiction winner for 2013 and I added it to my list because it had interesting reviews and apparently a different kind of structure. Recently, I finally managed to get to it.

This is a book where the structure seems to matter more than the plot itself. 
It's the story of Ursula, she is born in 1910 and she dies that same day. The next chapter of sorts shows her what happens when Ursula is reborn and this time survives. Throughout her life, Ursula is faced with many situations and in some cases, she ends up dying to only be reborn again and her life then changes in some aspects.
But being able to do things again, being able to have a second and third chances doesn't automatically mean she will only make good choices, does it? What about how that also influences somebody else's life?

The concept of this book is quite interesting, this idea of dying things again and again. In movies this has been done with more or less success but in a book it can be a bit more complicated. My issue with the concept is that Ursula dies and then is reborn again but obviously we don't go back to read the same things all over just with a different perspective. The author highlights some scenes and goes from there. This means we have what happened and then a new choice and a path from then on.

This does sound easy enough to follow and understand but the truth is I found is weird and more difficult because it's not always obvious Ursula dies and why aren't others aware of it? Besides, when she comes back, we immediately are taken to the scene that matters (like I said, to not repeat all again) but that sort of breaks the plot in parts which aren't always easy to get. I felt lost in several moments and I would always wonder: has Ursula's life been the exact same until that point? In a way, maybe so, after all she doesn't really remember her past lives but she feels things when it comes to the key choices. I just think it wasn't easy to maneuver even when each chapter has the year. All this aside, it's also taken into consideration the fact Ursula is a different person each time around, at least in her attitudes and personality. The idea is that specific moments in our life can and do change/influence us to act or not and that can be key but we can't go back in time to undo or redo everything so...

I suppose that if every time Ursula is reborn we could go chronologically through her life, things could make more sense in terms of her growing up and such. But we often have some of Ursula's new lives happening in years which come before some lives which Ursula lived after... it is very complicated to simply imagine.
Besides, plot and structure aside, Ursula herself wasn't always a character I cared about. I liked where things wee going in the first life she has as a grown up, it was poignant and emotional. But she comes back and starts being someone I didn't morally nor emotionally liked much, even recognizing it was just the way people probably behaved at the time.

If we were to know or feel something about a past life would we truly change ourselves so radically from what we used to be before? Tricky this question when it comes to Ursula, I think.

This is a very interesting story, interesting way of presenting it too. But despite being a large book, despite the things we obviously need to infer and those which are meant for us to simple accept at our own interpretation, I still think there are too many tings left in the air. This makes me feel both confused and annoyed because I can't understand if this was meant to be simply philosophical or maybe I just didn't read it well enough. 
It's a great story to be absorbed in but too confusing at the end to have made a stronger impression in me. Has someone else read who can explain it all better?
Grade: 6/10

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