Cara Fielder explains why this month’s Waterstones Book of the Month, Kate Atkinson‘s Life After Life, has had her ignoring her real family and friends in favour of fiction…
If you have managed to cast an eye over any of my previous blogs you’ll know I usually review a collection of books from a certain genre or for a specific occasion. Every once in a while though a novel moves me so much that all I want to do is tell everyone I can about it. This is exactly how I feel about the new novel from Kate Atkinson called Life After Life.
Born on the 11th of February 1910, Ursula’s first life ends before it begins, with lungs that never take their first breath but this little girl is unique, she gets another chance.
We meet Ursula again, born on the same day but under ever so slightly different circumstances and instead of passing into the darkness, she breathes in that first lungful of air and starts a new life. The trials and tribulations of her young existence end with her feeling the snow on her face and tumbling into the darkness a number of times. Sometimes her passing comes in innocent ways such as illness or accident but as she becomes older they change, especially in one horrific ending. Each time her current life ends it is as if her life is reset and she lives her days again but slightly differently.
Although she can’t often remember full events from her previous life, emotions, places, necessary actions and people often seem familiar and she suffers from a constant state of déjà vu. At one point her mother takes her to see a doctor about her strange behaviour and Ursula knows there’s a photo missing from the room, even though she has never been there, in that lifetime. Sometimes her memories are as mundane as that, other times they are not only life changing but have the potential to be world changing.
The thing that gets under your skin about this novel is Ursula herself and how not only her life’s path but her entire personality can be affected by other people’s actions. How much are we just moulded by the people and places around us? In a time where women’s strengths were only just becoming to be appreciated, she becomes a heroine not only in spite of the events she lives through but because of them. As a young child you cannot help but feel for her and the pressure she’s put under, and as you follow her into adult life I found myself wanting to shout out loud at her when she started to take a path that could not end well. The different paths of her life evoke such joy, heartache, sadness and anger in you as a reader that turning the last page leaves you bereft.
To reveal too many details of Ursula’s lives will only ruin surprises and plot lines that make this story wonderful; therefore I have no intention of doing so. What I will say is that if you enjoy beautifully written novels with characters you’ll end up ignoring your real life loved ones to spend more time with, this is the novel for you. Life After Life has become an instant favourite of mine, one I look forward to return to again and again.
Cara Fielder, for Waterstones.com/blog