reading now: kate atkinson's life after life

I was lucky to get my hands on an advance reading copy of Kate Atkinson's new book, Life After Life (available in bookstores today!). I started reading it over the weekend and have spent a few late nights turning page after page, simultaneously dreading and wanting to discover what Atkinson has in store for the end.

Life After Life revolves around the many lives and deaths of Ursula Todd. She is born and she dies, and she is born again to take another path in life...and to die another death. Atkinson plays out all of these lives, presenting some deaths as a relief from the life before it and some a sad end.

Kate Atkinson's new novel is a marvel, a great big confidence trick – but one that invites the reader to take part in the deception. In fact, it is impossible to ignore it. Every time you attempt to lose yourself in the story of Ursula Todd, a child born in affluent and comparatively happy circumstances on 11 February 1910, it simply stops. If this sounds like the quick route to a short book, don't worry: the narrative starts again – and again and again – but each time it takes a different course, its details sometimes radically, sometimes marginally altered, its outcome utterly unpredictable. Atkinson's general rule is that things seem to get better with repetition, but this, her self-undermining novel seems to warn us, is a comfort that is by no means guaranteed, either.

When reading Life After Life, I am continually reminded of those real moments in our lives where we can see our own paths leading out before us, one a continuation of life as we know it and the other death or disaster: the moments when we see ourselves tumbling in a slow-motion car on the freeway, a car jumping the curb sending us flying into the air, the missed step and our crumpled, broken body at the bottom of the stairs...

Listen to the NPR interview with Kate Atkinson here...

What to read next?!


lifeintheabbey said...

I cannot wait. It's out now. It's at Powell's just 4 blocks from where I am now. But I'm going to her reading later in the month so I'm going to wait. I said it. I'm going to wait. Eek!

Hannah said...

I finished it on Thursday... SO Good.
I think I'm starting the new A.L. Kennedy, The Blue Book, next.