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"Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson

December 19, 2013 by PatLeach
Recently two or three friends whose opinions I trust recommended "Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson. It's been a popular book group selection, a novel about a woman is reincarnated several times, set in the first half of the twentieth century in England and Germany. For me, it's the third book I've read in a very short time span that addresses the Nazi era.

In the book's opening scene, Ursula Todd enters a bar and shoots Adolf Hitler. In the second, she is born and dies immediately. In the third, she is born and lives. As Ursula's story moves along, she is reincarnated several times and is able to avert tragedies that happened in previous lives. She always feels somewhat apart from others, experiencing fierce deja vu and vivid premonitions.

In Kate Atkinson's capable hands, this works. Much of the story centers on Ursula's family and a small circle of friends. Her relationship to them seems not to evolve significantly with each new life. A second aspect of the novel involves Ursula and World War II, when she experiences some lives in London before and during the Blitz, others in Germany in Hitler's social circles.

An omniscient narrator tells the stories, ending each life usually with the phrase, "darkness fell." The distance of the narrator contrasts with the intensity of Ursula's unique experience.

Although I absolutely believe that this novel works well, I've been slightly reluctant to recommend it to others, partly because the whole reincarnation idea seems too fantasy-like, too made-up. Perhaps I'm not willing enough to follow a novelist down the path of "What if the world were different in THIS way...."

Even so, I see this as an excellent book group choice. It covers so many bases--family relationships, the World War II era, the role of women, and the meaning of mortality. "Life After Life" invites readers to reconsider a basic idea of how our world works, and then to ponder how countless ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, rest on that one idea.

Tagged in: fiction, reincarnation, Kate Atkinson,
Comments: 0

"One Good Turn"

November 08, 2010 by PatLeach

Over the weekend, I finished "One Good Turn" by Kate Atkinson. Enjoyed it immensely--a novel of several braided lives, woven around an initial road rage incident.  Contemporary. Set in Edinburgh. The second book about Jackson Brodie.

What I loved about it at first was that the action begins immediately--the road rage incident. I wasn't quite so excited when the next half-dozen or so people were introduced into the action, slowing things down. But it picked up again. I love this kind of fiction, love feeling in the hands of someone who's crafted a series of events that will eventually make sense.

I appreciated the various characters--a man who writes cozy mysteries and is hiding a hideous secret of his own, a hitman who seems to get very little attention, the wife of a crooked financier, a Russian woman who keeps turning up at unlikely times, Jackson Brodie the former policeman, and many more.

I realize that when I read a "braided lives" novel, I usually prefer one or two of the story lines over others. In this case, I especially liked Jackson Brodie, a good sign since Atkinson is crafting a series around him. As the story progressed, a few times I realized that I should have paid better attention earlier on, as someone who was introduced and then fell to the background was brought back to the spotlight.

All in all, a well-written and well-crafted mystery.

I found it by looking back at past "New York Times best of the year" lists, in this case, the list from 2006.  These lists of 100 titles have enough to include a wide variety of potential books.  I've found some of my favorite books by fishing through those lists--I recommend that you take a look for your own next read.

Tagged in: Good Reads, Kate Atkinson, "One Good Turn", mysteries,
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