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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Recollecting what I can from Life After Life

Anticipating book group tomorrow night - what do I remember about Life After Life (Kate Atkinson), which I read just a few months back? Main thing is the shtick: the lead character dies many times during the course of the narration, including dying at childbirth, so the novel as a whole in a series of lives that might have (or might not have) taken place. There are a few pivotal moments in the narrative - one in particular when the main character (why can't I remember her name?) gets raped by a loutish (American) friend of her dislikable older brother. So in one life version she becomes pregnant, depressed, suicidal, runs off to London, her liberal and independent aunt helps her get an abortion (in one v. she dies after this procedure, I think), and she goes on to lead a lonely life. In other versions she fends for herself, fights off the crude rapist, leads an active and independent life. All of the versions lead to London under aerial attack during WWII - the single most significant era for nearly all British writers over the past 80 years! - and Atkinson does a great job establishing the mood, the esprit de corps, and the danger of living through that era. Various versions of the "life" have the character survive or not - and crossing paths in various complex ways with the same set of characters, for the most part others dwelling in the same apartment building - sometimes they survive in a basement shelter, sometimes not. All told it's a novel of many narratives, some of they beautifully written, but as a coherent work of art I found it a mess, very distracting, consciously pushing us away from the narrator - how can we invest in her story if we know the author will tear it apart again and again? It's in a way like a Cubist painting, I guess, but would anyone hire Picasso to paint their portrait? As I know I noted in several posts, she did a much better job in her sequel novel, A God in Ruins, which was a clear and engaging narrative about one man's life (the younger brother, same family) with only a single narrative "trick" that, though I found it unnecessary, didn't disrupt us from the entire experience of reading the novel.


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