Saturday, June 11, 2016
No idea what Kate Atkinson is up to
I have well established my frustration with Kate Atkinson's Life After Life - terrific writing, great use of historical research, strong characterization (potentially), vivid re-creation of a time and place - all undermined by her fixation on narrative tricks and feints, having her protagonist die several times and live through various versions of her life, a series of "what ifs." As she nears the conclusion, she doesn't tie the strands together but, rather, she piles it on: From the outset we knew that Aunt Izzie had borne a child "out of wedlock" when she was a teenager living in Germany, and that the child had been given up for adoption - a potentially rich narrative strand: Would her son reunite with the family in some unexpected way, perhaps as a captive German soldier? I had suspected, without any evidence for this, that the brother Teddy was actually Izzie's son, that the Todd family had "adopted" him and put forth the fiction that he was their natural-born son. But now KA gives us a chapter in which Aunt Izzie's son, Roland, is in fact adopted by the Todds, then drowns in swimming accident (the same scene earlier played out with Ursula the drowning victim - or the near-drowning victim - so to what end, what is the purpose? I have to say the drowning scene is astonishing - nobody watching the children playing in the ocean water - it would be something, one would think, that the mother, Sylvie, would bear w/ her throughout her life, though we see no evidence of that. Honestly, I have no idea what Atkinson is up to; will probably finish the novel tonight, and will most likely post tomorrow on the differences between this and her much stronger sequel, A God in Ruins.