Book #18: Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

I tend to have a hard time with choosing contemporary fiction. My standard procedure is to wait until I’ve read about or heard enough praise for a book to invest in it myself. Unfortunately, this technique isn’t always fool proof. It worked out splendidly with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. But more often than not, I’ve been disappointed with the results (i.e. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, etc.).

The same was true with Life After Life, a novel at the top of many “best of 2013” lists, so I decided to order it with a giftcard I received for Christmas. I had high hopes of finding a worthwhile read, but I thought this book left much to be desired.

It’s plot is both too complex and too disorganized to be explained effectively; the heroine, Ursula, lives a bizarre life that stops and restarts many times, yielding a different life for her with each reincarnation. Ursula is born in 1910, so much of her adult life is centered around World War II, including some very bizarre plot lines involving Hitler. I realized that, of the seven novels I’ve read in 2014, three of them have had WWII plotlines, so I might just be a bit fatigued with that story right now. Still, there were many other issues I had with this novel.

Since the story changes so frequently, it read to me like Atkinson couldn’t really commit herself to a story, and decided to just rewrite it on a whim. It wasn’t until one of the book’s final sections that Ursula fully recognized her ability to change her future by restarting her life, so this skill didn’t really serve a purpose. I was much more interested in the book’s final twenty pages, but when the whole thing rounds out at nearly 530 pages, the final twenty don’t bear much weight.

I also found the book very frustrating stylistically. It was full of comma splices and odd phrasing, and I also had the strange misfortune of two missing pages. I slowly became infuriated with Atkinson’s incessant, unnecessary use of parentheses throughout the novel that I found completely distracting. If you can’t think of a more efficient way to incorporate a line into the story, maybe it shouldn’t be included at all.

Okay, I realize that I’m verging on rambling here. I’m just feeling at a bit of a loss that I’ve spent a few weeks reading a book and I can’t even really describe what it was about. And since it ends in such an ambiguous way, I don’t even really know what happened. Needless to say, this wasn’t one of my most pleasant reading experiences. Hopefully I’m moving on to better things.

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