Sunday, July 10, 2016
An alternative way to "publish" Kate Atkinson's Life After Life
Other matters of note as a re-read Kate Atkinson's Life After Life: I'd forgotten the significance of the German narratives. The novel begins with a dramatic and ambiguous encounter in which the protagonist, Ursula, sits down with Hitler at some sort of restaurant or beer hall, pulls out a gun (an old WWI piece from her father), then a comic-book blam! - and we never see whether she killed Hitler or was killed in the attempt. (I'm sure there have been several alternative-history novels exploring these narrative possibilities: What if H had been shot? What if Germany had won the war?, etc. - Atkinson's interest in alternative narratives is character-based; she's not interested in alternative history). Later in the novel, a sequence opens in which Ursula goes to Germany as an exchange student, falls in love w/ a German man, through his connections becomes friendly with Eva Braun and gets to see the central operations of the Reich, and, at least in one narrative, she endures the war and the post-war in dire poverty in Berlin (if the point is to make us see that both sides suffered in the war, that wartime Berlin was just as miserable as wartime London, I don't buy it - screw the Nazis and the Germans who supported them through silence and acquiescence). Atkinson is curiously apolitical in her approach and doesn't have any deep insights into the mentality of Hitler or his cronies. The strongest narratives in the novel are the London wartime sections, far and away. As noted in one of my previous posts on Life After Life, this novel pushes the edges of published fiction and probably should be "published" as an interactive website or app, a network in which "readers" can choose among alternative pathways at various points in the narrative and experience the unfolding of differing possibilities - maybe even w/ the goal of finding that pathway that gives Ursula the longest life?