Author: Kate Atkinson
Type: Fiction, novel
I read it: February 2014
A return to Books & Bars got me reading Life After Life. There’s plenty to unravel here, so it was fun hearing the group discuss the multiple-lives plot, the personal stories of the protagonist vs. the attempt to kill Hitler himself, how sub-characters change or do not change, and whether there was any conscious use of the protagonist’s “powers.”
I don’t have strong feelings on the Hitler thing one way or another, but I did like the WWII stuff. I think it’s because I just haven’t read much on the major wars, so it all seemed like new information. The book itself is generally devastating, as you have to read about Ursula dying again and again. Plenty of those instances of darkness falling were sad, although one that stuck out for me was the combination gas poisoning/freezing to death alone in a rundown apartment. Goddamn.
I don’t think I would call the main thing happening in the book reincarnation, although it made sense for the psychologist character to use that word since it would have been the closest vocabulary of the time. I’m also not sure I agree with some of the book club discussion hinging on the idea that each life was a circular redo. There is a part where Ursula tells her doctor that the feeling is not circular, but more like “a palimpsest” (I admit I had to look up that word). So to me the character did not begin and end all these lives to eventually “get it right” (with the exception perhaps of a few key pages towards the very end) but each was more like an overlay or part of a multiverse, where all the lives were equally real and there was no one true path.
However you read it, it’s an engaging look into those “vaporous moments, impossible to hold onto.”
Music corner: The book makes me think of the following two songs. Or, the songs make me think of the book. Prepare your heart.
- “Afterlife” by Arcade Fire
- “Last War” by Haley Bonar (especially the video)