Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"Life After Life" is about Ursula Todd, who keeps being born into the same life again and again, but her choices alter it a little--or a lot--each time. Born in 1910, it becomes clear that her destiny is to try to assassinate Hitler in 1930, before he has a chance to rise to ultimate power.
However, most of the book is taken up with much smaller concerns, and I found it fascinating to watch Ursula grow up, several times, and make different choices in her adult life. Who hasn't wondered what would have been, if one had turned right instead of left, married this person rather than the other one, taken that trip abroad versus not? Ursula, at least, gets to find out, and so do we, along with her.
The most vivid sections of the book, for me, were the descriptions of her childhood home, Fox Corner, and also the wildly contrasting accounts of the London blitz. Atkinson makes it terrifyingly immediate and unforgettable.
I thought that the author did a fine job of making the Todd family and their world real. This writer can write, and I never found a single page of this story dull or predictable. That's some trick when writing the same characters and time frames again and again! Sounds like it might be awful, but it was fascinating.
What wasn't so wonderful to this American reader, born long after the end of WWII, was the way Atkinson throws around acronyms and initials for British wartime organizations without explaining even once what they stand for. Add to that, the endless Britspeak, and I had no idea what they were talking about, at times. This was true especially of their meals. I was utterly in the dark about most of their food. In this same vein, in a longish chapter that takes place in Germany, there is a LOT of German being spoken. Sometimes Atkinson translates, often she does not. It got irritating.
My final problem with the book was the ending. The book is simply 9 pages too long. She had her ending nailed perfectly, and then added two very short chapters that did nothing but muddy the waters, in my view.
I loved this book, admired the way she pulled off a difficult premise, was drawn in by all the characters, and basically couldn't put it down. If not for the complaints about the unexplained arcana ("He...was instructing at an OTU. He was a squadron leader with a DFC." Whatever that means!) and the confusing last two chapters, I would have given it five stars. Still and all, definitely recommended.
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