Book Review: Life After Life

Well. I’m flummoxed. Because. I can’t decide whether the problem is Me – seems like I can’t get into fiction nowadays – or Kate Atkinson’s novel that won the 2013 Costa Book Awards.

After finding it hard to turn the next page (I proceeded to the last 20 or so pages before reading midway through the book), I searched online and found that it was highly acclaimed for its inventive story structure that presents the possibilities of a life for a British girl, Ursula Todd, born in 1910 who lives through two world wars. Well, yeah. I suppose that explains why she keeps dying and the repeated chapter endings of “Darkness fell.”

life-after-life

Frankly, I was hooked by the tagline “What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?” but going in, it was difficult to make sense of the story because of the various life trajectories presented by the author for her protagonist. Did she die at birth or did she live? An Amazon reviewer has said the book “begs the question ‘What if?'” and that’s precisely what I felt its message was. What IF? Only problem is … I hate “What if?” questions maybe because I get them nearly everyday from my children.

So. I didn’t finish it even though the table of contents gives a chronological guide to the novel. Don’t get me wrong. Atkinson is a masterful scene painter and storyteller, not overly dramatic nor given to flourishing touches. But with a plot that loops back in time again and again before diverging into another tangent, I was put off.

Ultimately – for me, at least, and I know I’m going against the grain here – Life After Life is an unsatisfying and unsettling read. One is never quite sure which of the story strands is true. Which makes one wonder. Perhaps that is what Atkinson wants readers to do: settle on a version of reality that meets one’s own satisfaction. If so, she has achieved her objective magnificently – if the five-star reviews at Amazon and praise from fellow writers are anything to go by.

Note: I’ve read another 100 or so pages since beginning this review and my views remain the same. This, in fact, is the only book that I want to give away right after reading it. 

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