Monday, April 28, 2014

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I don't read enough books by female authors. This one is a helpful corrective. One of the finest things I've read as fiction for pleasure for ages.

It is a book in which time is almost completely ignored as usually understood. It is not like a story which is told in the wrong order and has to be reconstructed. It is a novel in which Ursula, the central character, dies as a child, then doesn't. Previous narratives, revisited, have different endings. Characters die and survive, live for infamy and anonymity, do good and evil.

It asks the key question, 'How might life have turned out differently?' It works through some of the fine details which lead people to be in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time. As someone who survived the bombing in the Tavern in the Town in Birmingham by being there one day early, didn't die in a seatbeltless head on car smash and just managed not to fall off a cliff, all before the age of twenty, I have always felt this sense of fragility.

Of course it is true to say that if things had been different they might very well have been different. But never before, in my experience, has a book played so worthily with the question.


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