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Again and Again and …   2 comments

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Attempting to describe Kate Atkinson’s most recent novel, Life After Life, is like sharing a recipe that’s undergone several transformations or tweaks here and there. The end result may be familiar, but the process is not.

Jumping from pre-war Germany to the halcyon country life of the Todd family to London in various parts of the first and second World Wars, Atkinson takes the Groundhog Day concept of redoing things – life – until they’re done right, or at least differently. Paying close attention to the chapter headings is essential.

Ursula Todd’s personal history is told with variations beginning with several involving the day she was born. These range from death at childbirth to the family doctor arriving in time to ensure her survival. The Todd family remains constant, as do most of the other characters and events. Some are slightly altered, while others undergo major conversions, but all are interesting, some uncomfortable and a few are actually happy. Even the Veal ala Russe, a favorite of the Todd family cook, Mrs. Glover, makes recurring appearances, but none reflect an improvement on the dish.

The underlying theme of the novel is to question what happens if one had never been born. Or, what if Ursula had been more assertive at certain points in her life, or what if she shared troubling observations with those around her? Of course, no one ever knows, which is what makes Atkinson’s work so intriguing; she offers a slew of possibilities right up to the final pages.

Life After Life
Four Bookmarks
Little Brown and Co., 2013
529 pages

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2 responses to “Again and Again and …

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  1. Another one of my favorites. I’ve heard from several people who’ve been frustrated by this complicated novel so I’m glad to hear from someone who liked it.

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