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.