Life After Life
Kate Atkinson is one of my favourite contemporary fiction writers, and as I love her crime series featuring Jackson Brodie when I found out she had a new novel coming out in 2013 I was excited. Atkinson’s work is considered to be on the “literary” end of fiction and I’m pleased to say that Life After Life isn’t a stuffy “literary for literary’s sake” read.
The book opens in 1930, a smoky club, a man, a woman and a gun. An assassination and the first, (or perhaps the last) time darkness falls on a life. The next chapter jumps back in time and it’s 1910 and it’s snowing. Baby Ursula is born and then dies. And then she’s born again.
She’s not reincarnated, she’s Ursula – she’s the same but a little bit different. And then she dies again, and is born again, and so on and so forth. It may sound a tad repetitive, but it’s not. Each reincarnation is a new opportunity, an opportunity to change the future, to learn from the past she’s already lived – a life with dejavu that influences choices and corrects past mistakes, and puts lives in parallel and direct opposition to each other.
Atkinson subtly moulds all the characters as each life progressing, adding new layers of love, hate, friendship, loss and opportunity. They creep under your skin and actually make you care about what happens to them – so much so that I found myself thinking about the changes Ursula should make when the darkness falls again.
Life After Life is already on the shortlist for the UK Women’s Prize for Fiction (formally known as the Orange Prize for Fiction), and I’m sure it’s the first of many prize lists this novel will find itself on.
Life After Life is an example of storytelling at its best, it begins at the end and follows an orbit that extends possibilities and defines what it means to live a life to the fullest. – it’s engaging and entertaining and you’ll find it hard to put down.