Tuesday, 3 June 2014
Devouring Books: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I couldn't stop reading Life After Life. That's the first thing I want to note about it, because even though it's not necessarily the most important thing for a book to have, it's a fairly important indication of how much I was enjoying a book at the time of reading. The fact that I literally couldn't put it down because I read it in the 24 Hour Readathon is neither here nor there, it was just very readable and intriguing and I always wanted to know what happened next and then all of a sudden it was over and I had... Feelings.
Let me tell you about the book before I tell you about those feelings. A baby is born and then dies, that same baby is born and survives until she's about two. She's born again, she dies again. That's basically it, except that each and every life is different and has something new to say about the world and about especially World War Two, and it raises issues (at least for me) like, which life would you choose? And if you knew what was going to happen, would you be able to make the right moves to make sure it didn't happen again? And just how awful are ALL THE OPTIONS in the war? (They're all pretty bad)
The fact that I can say that, yeah, I liked this book, is especially impressive since it's historical fiction which, unless it's written by Emma Donoghue, I'm not so hot for. It's such a different and intriguing concept that it's difficult to stop reading, and yet. And yet. I wanted more from this story than it seemed willing to give. I wanted some kind of explanation for what was happening, and why it was happening to Ursula, and I wanted to know which one of the realities was the realest, or, if they all actually happened, then I wanted to know that too. I mean, Atkinson can make whatever decisions she wants about what she writes- it's her book- but it kind of feels like she just wanted to write a lot of different scenarios without writing a lot of different books, but also didn't want to explain how such a thing could be. Which is sort of annoying.
The fact that not enough is explained isn't enough for me to say this book isn't worth reading. I still think it is, but that doesn't mean that I didn't want more from it. Maybe I even wanted more from it because I liked it so much that I wanted extra stuff. I want to know how Ursula kind of knows that she's lived other lives, but kind of doesn't. I want to know if one timeline is the true one, or if they all are. I want to know if deja vu actually comes from the lives we're not living rather than the lives we are. I want to know if Ursula can actually choose death, or if she's doomed to repeat life until she gets it perfect- whatever that means.
Apparently I just want to know lots of stuff. But maybe that's all part of it- that I'm supposed to be making my own mind up about things, that I can decide whether there's still a version of Ursula living out her life, trying to get it 'right'. I don't know if it's meant to make me think about whether or not I'd like to live like this, but I know for a fact that of course I wouldn't. I don't know what the right choices, no one does, and even Ursula only knows not to make the wrong choices as each life goes by, not which ones are the right ones. I feel like I've veered ever so slightly off the topic into strange philosophy land, but apparently this is what this book does to you. Or, to me. I don't know.
THE POINT: This book is a good read. It's not perfect, and the thoughts you'll have afterwards may make you write a rambling blog post that doesn't have a lot to do with the book. I'm not sure I would feel the need to ever read this again, and there wasn't really a huge amount of character development to speak of, but I still truly enjoyed reading it (and picking it apart afterwards) which is sometimes all you need from a book.
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"But it kind of feels like she just wanted to write a lot of different scenarios without writing a lot of different books, but also didn't want to explain how such a thing could be."ReplyDelete
Ooooooh....hm. I think you might be on to something with that. I gushed about this book (at least I think I did, damn my terrible memory), but your criticisms feel true to me. It's so hard when it's a book you enjoyed but it has problems but they're not problematic enough to make you dissuade people from reading it. I almost think I do need to read this again someday to really solidify my opinion of it. Until then...*shrugs*
The way I mainly feel about it is that I seriously enjoyed it SO MUCH while I was reading it that I would never tell people not to, it's just the aftermath where I re-engaged my brain that made me go 'but... was it that *good*?' Which maybe my answer to that is kind of no, but I still like it?Delete
I don't even know. All I know is that this was historical fiction and I still liked it and read it really fast which never happens so yeah.
I pretty much completely agree with what you wrote here! Much as I enjoyed reading the book, I did want some kind of explanation for everything... I was expecting there to be some kind of moment of clarity where everything suddenly made sense, but there just wasn't.ReplyDelete
I sort of want to re-read it to see if I can work something out from it, but I have a feeling that I won't, and there are so many books that I want to read more that I probably never will, haha.
Right?! I just want a little bit of something that's a bit less story, a bit more explainy. That's not so much to ask, I don't think! I wouldn't say that I'll never re-read this, but I probably won't.Delete
I read this a while ago now and I still think about it every now and then. I started off by loving it but the more I do think about it, the more disappointed I become. There is something that just isn't there. I think I'll reread it at some point in the future just to see what I make of it on a second go. Thanks for making me think about it again :)ReplyDelete
You're so welcome! Even if it was a bit of an annoyed think haha. There's definitely something missing, and even if it's something that Atkinson didn't intend to put in (ie she didn't intend to explain it, really) then I still think that's kind of not ok. BUT I still really liked it. Such a weird conflict in my brain.Delete
I fell pretty hard in love with this book, but I like your point about wanting to know "which one of the realities was the realest." But then one of the things I loved about the whole book was how many questions it made me ask, like which of these is the realest?, and that lingering questioning is a pretty cool thing.ReplyDelete
This is true. I like questions, but I like there to be some attempt at answering them, or at least some evidence of the way we should be answering them, you know? I still super loved it when I was reading it, it's really just afterwards that I've gone 'but... hang on...' because apparently my brain can't just shut up and let me enjoy things, which is a shame!Delete
Life After Life will make you think about second chances, the power of fate and--most of all--the life you are living now. Included in the novel is a chilling description of the London blitz and the everyday heroes who will astound you with their courage.ReplyDelete
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