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26 February 2014

book update: life after life [kate atkinson]

  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • Americanah by Chimamada Ngozi Adichie
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  • The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Creating Room to Read by John Wood
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
In my first post of the year, I mentioned that the above are the 12 books I absolutely have to read this year. Well, I recently finished Life After Life [Kate Atkinson], and I enjoyed it for the most part. I have previously read three of Atkinson's books [Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Case Histories, and One Good Turn] and loved all of them, so when Life After Life released last year I knew I would read it even before it began receiving publicity.

Throughout last year, I continued to hear accolades and praise for Life After Life, and I was both excited and apprehensive about the paperback release of the book this January. I was excited because I really like Atkinson's writing and always look forward to her new releases, but I was a bit apprehensive because I didn't want the hype to get my hopes up too much and then end up disappointed once I read it.

In the end the hype didn't really effect my reading experience too much. I really liked the book overall, although there were a few parts I could have done without. If those few scenarios had been edited out, cutting the book down by about 150 pages and just generally saving a lot of confusion, I think I would have liked it immensely more. There were two in particular, although I understand why the first of those was included, regardless of how much I disliked reading it [for the subject matter, not for the writing]. The second, a complete departure from the rest of the scenarios, felt really forced to me, and it seemed way out of place. I know it was something Atkinson wanted to touch on and was the primary reason for setting her book in the 1910-1960 era, but I think the book would have been a lot better had that particular scenario been left out [I'm trying really hard to not give away spoilers, but I fear all I'm doing is sounding super vague. sorry!].

I would also have liked to see some further character development. We obviously get to know Ursula well over the course of the book, as she is the central character and the one who continually dies and is reborn, but we don't really get to see any of the other characters develop throughout the story. Her father is a saint, her mother is put-upon, her older brother is mean, her sister is the one who takes care of everyone, her younger brother is the one everyone loves, her youngest brother is the one we hardly hear about, and her aunt is the typical crazy aunt who lets you do whatever you want. Beyond those labels, however, we don't really get to experience anything with any of them, which is something I really would have enjoyed.

Probably the most interesting part for me was the idea of the story itself. I didn't know much about the plot when I began reading, but the idea of it continues to intrigue me, the idea that we can repeat certain situations in life and perhaps change the outcome of them. I think there were a few moments where Atkinson got a bit lost in her execution of it, but for the most part I liked it. I liked that every time Ursula got to "redo" her life, there were some things that still continued to happen. They were often on the periphery, but it played into the notion that even if we get second chances in life, some things are going to happen anyway. I'm not sure what my stance on destiny and fate are, but this was certainly an interesting way of looking at it. Were those things that kept occurring somehow more "real", destined to happen no matter what, while others could have been altered or even removed from history if given a second chance? It's an interesting thought, and one that has been on my mind even after I finished the book.

It was also quite interesting to read this book while watching the current airings of season 4 of Downton Abbey, as the two are set during similar eras and touch on a few of the same subjects. While Downton doesn't offer the same rebirth opportunities as Life After Life, I couldn't help but make comparisons from time-to-time.

It might sound as though I have more criticisms than praise for this book, but I did like it quite a bit. I definitely got lost in it a few times during those particular scenarios, those lives I didn't like, but it was an interesting undertaking and I'm glad that I read it.

currently reading [and almost finished with]: Creating Room to Read by John Wood. be on the lookout for that review next week, so long as I'm not sequestered.
next in the queue: one of the following - Zeitoun, The Round House, or Where'd you go, Bernadette? anyone have any particular suggestions between those three?

One down, only 11 to go!

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