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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Great Book Club Picks: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

What if you could live your life over again until you got it right? Would it be possible to change the course of your own life, the fate of your loved ones or perhaps even history as we know it? Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is about Ursula B. Todd, born into a comfortable home in England in 1910... over and over again. Every time Ursula's life comes to an end she is reborn into the same set of circumstances. Her life, when she lives long enough, spans both world wars, with her father serving in World War I and brothers serving in World War II. Ursula isn't entirely conscious that she is living her own life again, but she does have some premonitions and a sense of deja vu that cause her to make different choices in subsequent lives.

This book feeds into our fascination with destiny versus free will. Sometimes Ursula is able to change events with her actions, but other times the butterfly effect is too complex to create the desired outcome. In some of the scenes, Ursula is studying abroad in Germany just as World War II is brewing and develops a friendship with Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun. I found these scenes harder to follow, but it allows the protagonist the potential to impact history on a grander scale.

As fits the theme, the tale is nonlinear, beginning with Ursula's attempt to assassinate a historical figure and ending with yet another birth. The author approaches each birth from a slightly different angle – the point of view of a servant as opposed to the doctor or an incident occurring a few hours later in the day that sheds light on another part of the story. Atkinson does not allow the recurring scene to become tiresome as each new version adds to the story.

I wasn't expecting to enjoy this book when it was chosen for my book club - the plot sounded too gimmicky. But once I started reading it, I was thoroughly engrossed. The book is beautifully written and expertly crafted. One member of my book club said, "I felt like I wasn't smart enough for this book." It's definitely challenging, but Life After Life rewards the effort of those in search of unique and thought-provoking fiction. It is also one of the books featured on Amazon’s list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

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