In my previous review, I mentioned my "fun" little reading assignment where I decided to read two books with the same title back-to-back, so it ended up being after LIfe After Life, I read Life After Life!However, unlike McCorkle's book, Kate Atkinson's Life After Life is one of those "achievement" books. I am not sure how Kate Atkinson had all that story in her head, let alone put in all down in print in such a lush and intricate way. Much like her countrywomen Hilary Mantel did in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, it is I who feel the responsibility for any perceived shortcomings of this novel. Not being a good enough reader, not being able to keep all those details straight in my head.
The title is quite literal. While very (very!) short-term spoiler-ish, the protagonist Ursula dies repeatedly throughout the novel (I should have kept count!), only to return and try to fix things and get further on in her next incarnation. I share this, as this is a premise is a non-starter for some readers - though it would be a shame to dismiss this wonderfully complex, deeply layered novel for its unconventional, non-reality based foundation. Atkinson creates a narrative that feels like the incoming tide. Lulling, repetitive, but with each wave just getting further and deeper onto the shore... but with the occasional bigger surge that catches your off guard and unexpectedly knocks you off your feet.
While your own life may not take the dramatic turns that Ursula's does, it is still mind-boggling to think of all the reasons why your at this point in your life. What your life would be if you hadn't met that person, been at that intersection, taken that class, etc. Or the role (or heck, existence) of fate, the many paths your life could have taken to still get you to that same place, time, or person. The great fun of this work, is while we can never know these things re: ourselves, we vicariously experience it with Ursula.
Atkinson has also created something that is genre-defying: the fantasy/sci-fi premise (tho it never feels that way), a coming-of-age story, a family drama, a mystery, and a really intriguing piece of WWII historical fiction.
While never difficult reading, the book had a dense feel. It felt like it took me longer to get through it than it should have, this is not necessarily a bad thing - but I am sure some readers might get frustrated with the multiple and constant reboots and quite detailed and lengthy detours that the novel takes. As for the ending, my jury is still out. I experienced great anticipation as I was reading the conclusion of the novel. I had my theories of how it would end, and lets just say that none of them were correct. It was a case when I flipped back the page (ok, this is the 2010s -- touched the screen to page back), to confirm that was it. Not disappointed per se, but more like "oh, okay. (process)"
Ratings-wise, always between a 4 and 5, so unofficially 4.5 stars. Given my initial uncertainty about the ending, I hit the pillow last night thinking 4 stars -- but after writing up this review and being duly (and truly) impressed with scope, breadth, depth, etc., etc. of the novel and a creative genius turn by Atkinson (had read her once before -- good, but no lasting impression) I will give it the Goodreads bump up to 5 stars.