Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I'm a huge fan of Atkinson's Jackson Brodie books. Not only is Jackson Brodie a great character, but all of the many disparate seeming threads woven throughout the story which come together so seamlessly in the end, could give Agatha Christie a run for her money. I know, that's a pretty big assertion. I stand by it. I'm the kind of person who figures it all out right away. Usually, the answer just comes to me and then I second guess myself because it couldn't possibly be that easy (but it is). In the case of Atkinson's books, I don't want to know. I just want to take the ride and see how she gets me to the end. I'm never disappointed.
I wasn't disappointed here, either. In Life After Life, Atkinson posits, 'what would happen if you got a do over whenever your life got irreparably broken?' Of course, we'd never move an inch if that applied to all of us. So, instead, she sets it in play for just one person, Ursula Todd. And, she does it perfectly. She misses nothing. I'd think I'd caught her in a mistake and then it would be revealed that she'd meant to do that and it fit perfectly into the story. I was amazed every time.
In February of 1910, Sylvie Todd goes into labor before the midwife or the doctor can make it to the house, Fox Corner. The baby who would be Ursula is stillborn. Time resets. The next time, the doctor does make it on time and Ursula lives. But, as a young child she drowns on a seaside vacation. Time resets. It goes on this way. There's a plan for Ursula, she's meant for something very big. She's meant to stop Adolf Hitler, but we know it will only work, if she survives. If she dies, she'll have to go back and start over.
There were some horrible things that Ursula endured in her many many do-overs of life. When things were particularly bad, I'd start wishing for the dark and the snow that signaled the end/rebirth of Ursula Todd. When it took too long in coming I'd be anxious for her happiness and safety. There was a slight imprint of her former lives that she could sense. She didn't know why she felt or thought the way she did, but some instinct in her tried to keep the same tragedies from repeating.
In general, I loved the characters in this book, well many of the characters in this book. Ursula is wonderful, as are most of her siblings, except that dreadful Morris. In the beginning I really liked her mother Sylvie, but I found her less and less likable as time(s) went on. By the time Ursula was a teen, I found her to be completely insufferable. I kind of hoped for her improvement, but it never came. She definitely did not have the benefit of Ursula's chances to emotionally evolve.
There's a lot of love and loss in this book. It spans two wars and many variations on Ursula's life. Atkinson has taken a concept that I've pondered so many times and provided a unique way of framing it. I was delighted that it made it to the Tournament of Books. Unfortunately, it got beaten out in the first round by The People in the Trees.