Saturday, April 13, 2013

Review: "Life After Life" by Kate Aktinson

Practice makes perfect.
/p. 468/

It's difficult to read "Life After Life" and not think about the movie "Groundhog Day". I finished this book less than an hour ago, and I feel the need to write about it, right away (writing slump 0 - awesome books 1).
 
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
 
That one-sentence blurb alone triggers a flood of thoughts. It's like having a small version of good ol' Doc Emmett Brown on your shoulder, warning not to meddle with the time paradoxes, or the outcome may be disastrous. Only, in this book, there is no "physical" time travel (as much as such a thing is possible) - something I would label as an active notion, but the subtle ideas of reincarnation (a passive notion) and the constant feeling of déjà vu. Ursula Todd, the girl living life after life, never encounters herself in the time, but she encounters her own actions, and notices how it can take the smallest of change in the route of events to change the future completely.
 
I think that such "time-folding" technique is something that can easily fail in the hands of many writers, but Kate Atkinson is so crafty. The story just flows, it is one of those devourable books. Her writing is simple and easy to understand, but behind those simple sentences there is so much to feel. And think about. The characters are so vivid and many of them grew to my heart, even if they did things I did not approve. I could still see where they were coming from. Sylvie, the Mother, is a good example. If transferred into today, I think I'd call her a "soccer mum", but she was a very complicated character, often moody and hard to understand. Yet I liked her. (Or maybe I should say I liked reading about her? Not sure to be honest.)
 
It is a book of what if-s. What if a certain incident had not happened on your 16th birthday, or it had happened somewhat differently? How would it change everything that was to come afterwards? What if Hitler never came to reign? What if he happened to die before the time? Even though the first thing to come to mind is that it would have ended in something good, you'd have to consider the possibility that it would have ended in something even worse (although I realise that "something worse" than II WW is difficult to grasp). And it takes one to the more philosophical, vaguer paths - is there happiness without misfortune, and isn't it so that bad things can turn out good, only you do not know it yet? And how much power should a single individual possess when it comes to changing the course of events? I am by no means nothing close to a history expert, but if I think of Hitler, Stalin and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, also known as the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union, and then think that what if someone had, say, shot Hitler in 1930, and then think of Stalin and the plans he had for the world... regardless of horrors of the Holocaust and everything else, to put it very simply - if Hitler had not ended up as a "meat shield" for Stalin, draining a lot of resources from both Germany and Soviets, it is actually possible that the history might have ended up even uglier...
 
But that is digressing. "Life After Life" is awesome because of all the thoughts it makes you think, of all the doors and windows it opens in your mind. Despite the temptation to "finally get it right", I don't think it's possible because "right" is one of the most relative subjects there is, changing in time and space. I think what I personally take with me from this book is amor fati -
 
"It means acceptance. Whatever happens to you, embrace it, the good and the bad equally. Death is just one more thing to be embraced, I suppose."
/p. 426/
 
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477 pages

12 comments:

  1. Wow this sounds very interesting! I've thought about concepts like this before as well. I might have to put this on my reading list. Great review!

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    1. Thank you! I was especially glad that this kind of tricky concept was actually pulled off well in this one :)

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  2. I am SO excited to read this book. I'm number 41 on my library's hold list, so it may be awhile before I can get to it, but it sounds fantastic! Awesome review :-)

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    1. Ow, that's a long list. But good things are worth a little wait I guess :)

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  3. OK, I really need to read this. I've not seen one negative review from bloggers I trust.

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    1. Read! :) I'm actually having a bit of a book hangover since I finished this last weekend, it's been a while since that happened.

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  4. Can you just stop being so good at writing amazing reviews that make me want to read EVERY book, please. I agree that Kate Atkinson's writing is simple and I really think that is her strength. She can weave a powerful story without writing like she's got a thesaurus for a brain. Her characterisation is usually spot on too. I'm going to just have to ignore the towering pile of unread books and read this. I can't see any other way.

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    1. Ow, Ellie *blush* But I know what you mean. It's like the curse of book bloggers. So nice to go around and see what other people read and think about their reads, but it certainly doesn't bone well to our TBR piles/mountains/himalayas.

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  5. There's so much buzz about this book, it's great to read such a good review of it. The story does sound quite intriguing. And I LOVE the cover -- it is not the same as the US cover, which is just OK, if you ask me.

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    1. The cover of my copy, which is the same one as on the picture, is absolutely amazing (a lot better in physical form than on picture). I am no cover whore (excuse the expression :D) but some covers are just, so pretttyyy :)

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  6. This is a beautiful review. I totally agree that such "time-folding" technique is something that can easily fail in the less accomplished hands. I think Atkinson did well.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    JoV at Book Pyramid

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    1. Thank you for your kind words!

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