Book Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonI like looking at all the Kate Atkinson books I have lined up in my bookcase. Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Human Croquet. Emotionally Weird and more. The covers remind me of the hours of pleasure this author has given me. There’s a directness and generosity in Atkinson’s writing that makes her voice a stand out in a time when half the books I read are by authors striving for a barely nuanced, too cool style and the other half exhaust the reader with their individuality.

 

Atkinson’s newest book, Life After Life, begins with a conceit we’ve probably all entertained. What if existence is like a branching tree? What if, when I decided to go to Australia after college, I had another life in which I didn’t leave California? What if I hadn’t gone to that party on Thanksgiving Day and met Art Campbell? Somewhere out there on her own trajectory is there another Drusilla living that (sadly empty) life?

 

In bite sized segments, Life After Life moves back and forth between its characters’ possible lifetimes. It was disconcerting at first but I soon got a feel for what the author was doing and relaxed. So adroit is the writing that I never felt confused, just a little dizzy occasionally. Imagine a book that starts with a character sitting down to lunch with Adolph Hitler and two pages letter switches to 1910, rural England, a snowy night and a baby about to be born. By the time I was a third of the way through the book I loved the dizzying juxtapositions and was super-involved in all the possible lives of Hugh and Sylvie Todd and their family.

 

A lot of the book takes place during the Battle of Britain. Until I read Life After Life I didn’t realize how harrowing that time was and the toughness the citizenry showed, surviving night after night, week after week, month after month of bombing by the Germans. Nor did I know the extent of the damage that bombing did. The book is worth reading as a history lesson.

 

And by the way, Kate Atkinson is also laugh-out-loud funny when she wants to be.

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