Posts Tagged ‘good book’

Life After Life

In my break this time, I read Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

I think I heard about it on some book blog or other, and I immediately knew that it had to be my next free read.

To (probably mis)quote one of the characters in the book: What if you had the chance to live your life over and over again until you got it right? 

Kate Atkinson explores this idea through her character, Ursula Todd. Ursula is born on a snowy night in 1910, but dies immediately. She is born again, in the same snowstorm, and lives, only to later be suffocated when the cat falls asleep on her face. She is born again, doesn’t die on the night of her birth, is rescued from suffocation by the cat, but drowns when she is only five. She is born again, doesn’t die when she is born, doesn’t get suffocated by the cat, doesn’t drown, but… you get the idea.

Ursula Todd gets to live many different versions of her life – in at least one of them she kills Hitler – but she isn’t aware of it. Sometimes she is able to save herself from the same fate a second time by “intuition,” and other times her choices take her to different places.

The idea of reliving your life and getting to see where things could have gone if x had been different or if you’d said instead of b has ALWAYS interested me. I often wonder how my life could be different if things had played out differently. My family moved houses when I was 3, so I went to a different elementary school. Who would I be if we’d stayed there? I wouldn’t have had the same best friends as a kid. I wouldn’t have had the same teachers. It’s entirely possible that my life could have been completely different just from that.

Exploring this idea through Ursula was really fun for me. Her many lives were varied, and though many of the players stayed the same, their roles were completely different each time. It’s weird to think how differently life can go based on decisions. Even a decision like “I’m going to learn German instead of French” can completely change things. Ursula got to run around and be awesome during World War II, and you know how much I love reading about Europe in World War II.

Life After Life is an interesting read. It’s a bit repetitive – Atkinson rewrites a lot of the same scenes with just small changes. That can get frustrating, and it does feel like the book could be about 100 pages shorter with some of these cuts, but in the end, I think it’s worth the effort.

I’d recommend you give this book a try if you’re interested in re-birth, reflect a lot (I mean a lot) on your life choices, have trouble making life-altering decisions, or if you read a lot of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books as a kid.

Rating: *****

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Surprise!

Hold the phone, guys, I found a Victorian novel that I actually liked.

Cranford was a very pleasant surprise. The reviews I read were right – it was really funny. Even when I find books hilarious, I usually don’t laugh out loud when I’m reading. This time, however, I did.

All the wry comments about the ladies of Cranford trying to be “genteel” even though they know, and their neighbors know, and they know that their neighbors know, that they do not have the money or means to actually be genteel are hysterical. Their funny logic – why wear fine clothes when we go out here, in Cranford, where everybody knows us? or the equally logical, why wear fine clothes when we go out elsewhere, where nobody knows us? – had me chuckling in amusement.

All of these women – who are spinsters that fear marriage and hope to remain single forever – are clinging to better times and their idea of gentility and society. They have, in fact, created a strange new society for themselves. Cranford has no men, only unmarried women. These women have their own social order and ideas about the “proper” way of doing things, as per Victorian-era standards.

However, despite it’s hilarity, there is something profoundly sad about Cranford. As they age, the ladies try desperately to maintain their dignity and “genteel” lifestyle, even as their means diminish. At different times, the ladies of Cranford acknowledge, without acknowledging, that they cannot live the way they want to. They also mourn for the past and for the futures they never had. At one point, one of the ladies reveals that her father used to make her and her sister write two-columned journals. In the left column, they were to write what they thought would happen during their day. In the other, they would write what actually happened. This seems a setup for disappointments, as well as surprises, to be tracked. For some reason that struck me as very sad.

Despite all this, as ridiculous and unwittingly funny as the Cranford ladies are, they truly care for one another. The society they have created, while far from perfect, is interesting. They play cards, become fascinated by magicians, gossip, find ways to be interested in the latest fashions while pretending that they can afford them, and find ways to create “excitement” in the town. It’s pretty much a town of batty spinsters. I kind of want to be friends with them. To be honest, even though I hate most things about the Victorian era, I wouldn’t mind making a visit to Cranford.

Rating: ****
Up Next: The Fox

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