Thursday, June 9, 2016
Choose Your Own Advernture - in Kate Atkinson's novels
Some aspects of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life are so good, and some other aspects are so, well, frustrating - I don't know what to make of it, honestly. Now at about the 2/3 mark and reading several sections that describe the bombing of London - so strange to think of living in a major European capital under nightly aerial attack - something really no American can imagine about any of our cities. Great as the London bombing is as a trope that illustrates the strength and fortitude of British character, I still - as noted in other posts - stand amazed at how significant, even contemporary, this period of history now nearly 80 years back, remains for so many English writers. That said, some of the scenes of bombing - the stench, the horrible deaths, the fear, the bravery, the comradeship - Atkinson makes it feel so vivid and real - again, as in God in Ruins, she shows herself the master at drawing on historical documents and accounts to re-create a past era. The novel feels as if it's contemporary - I'm constantly wondering how she could know so much, so much of the topical detail, of life in London 80 years ago - even such things as what it was like to ride in a train locomotive, what people ate during the war, the sounds of the bombing raids, the feeling of being under attack, of being blown away by an explosion - so much is in her - and yet - what is she doing? Why does she give her main character, Ursula, a # of different lives, and deaths? It's a novel with pathways rather than a narrative, and I wonder whether she'd have been better suited to write the novel as an electronic script: choose your own narrative. For ex., she could bring the narration to a point of crisis - loutish guy Howie comes on hard to naive 16-year-old Ursula, and what does she do: submit? push him away gently? hit him in the face? - and what she decides at that moment leads to a different course of her development as a character, with other moments of crisis and potential pathways to follow. But this does not work in a conventional print novel - it just feels as if she couldn't decide what to do w/ her character(s) so keeps writing alternate versions of the same life, with a diminishing rather than a cumulative effect. Playing with narrative is fine, but it should be to some effect.