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Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: 'Life After Life'

Life After Life
By Kate Atkinson
Literary fiction
April 2013
Arthur Reagan Books
ISBN: 978-0316176484


I loved this novel for the way Atkinson captures the England I first fell in love with in The Forsyte Saga and Delderfield -- the copse, the meadow, the picking up and carrying on. She is masterful in her depiction of that England.

 
In addition, all the passages of the Blitz are brilliant. The long section at Hitler's mountain retreat, not so much. That was dreadful and I could hardly wait to get past it. And it was probably written that way on purpose, to point out how dreadful it must have been.
 
The germ of the main idea in the novel can be seen in the epigraphs at the beginning (and I do think it's delightful that Atkinson quotes her own characters both here and at the beginning of A God in Ruins).

What if we could go back and start all over again, and get it right? What if we could save our beloved brother, what if we could keep from marrying a man who beat us to death, what if we could save the neighbor girls from the mysterious stranger, what if we stayed in Germany, what if, what if? 
 
Ursula finally realizes this when she states toward the final pages that she is a witness. She knows what she has to do in the next life and she has developed the ability to make the choices that will help. There is the hint that the other characters may have had a bit of a sense of something too, especially when Teddy tells her thank you from across the pub.
 
But Atkinson also tells me that some things can't be changed. I always had the impression that Izzie's child that was adopted became Hitler. But when the Todds kept him and he drowned (as Roland), WWII still happened. The conversation the long-lived Ursula had with her nephew the history professor on what if probably ties into this, but I decided to not parse it too closely.
 
Because some things just can't be changed.

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