Kate Atkinson is one of those authors who has accompanied me throughout my adult life. A friend lent me “Human Croquet” when it was new in paperback and apart from having to catch up on “Behind the Scenes at the Museum”, I have read and enjoyed them all. Now while I loved the Jackson Brodie sequence and am more than a little in love with Mr Brodie himself (even I am only human), and felt that given the mysterious heart that tends to exist in Atkinson’s works that the detective genre was a natural progression, this is, for me her finest work to date.
Life after Life is about the tiny occurrences and seemingly trivial decisions that could change the course of a life and maybe even history. Far more complex than a Sliding Doors dual time line, events cycle from Ursula Todd’s birth in a snowstorm, the doctor doesn’t arrive, he arrives, scissors to cut the cord strangling the infant are not found, then found and with each restart Ursula’s life progresses -at least for a while. Ursula’s experiences are not options, her lives are culmalative giving her a sixth sense as she tries to avoid her own death. These take a darkly comic turn as her increasingly desperate attempts to avoid catching the Spanish ‘flu get homicidal.
Underlying the technical skill with which Atkinson handles the restarts is a beautifully drawn and nuanced family portrait which by itself would have sustained many lesser novels. That alone would have been a good read; this is a masterpiece.
I don’t read much non fiction.. I nearly wrote “enough” there but I am not sure I want to be that self-judgemental. I do read newspapers a lot and on the whole I think they do count as non-fiction. However this was a often fascinating tale of an eighteenth century heiress Mary Eleanor Bowes who despite academic brilliance made very unwise choices in her romantic life, marrying first the Earl of Strathmore before being widowed young and tricked into marriage with an Irish adventurer, Andrew Robinson Stoney.
Moore has obviously researched the story meticulously, possibly almost too much so for the general reader when the multidute of detail can slow down the story however it does bring home just how vulnerable women were until quite recently, even intelligent, rich powerful women were pretty much the property of their male “trustees”, in Mary Eleanor’s story it is chastening to see how much more effort is put into protecting the heiress’ assets rather than her person.. also a reminder that the Victorians reinvented morality!
Well I have been better at reading than blogging. Since I last posted I have finished: Wedlock by Wendy Moore, The Information Officer by Mark Mills, Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, Annabel by Kathleen Winter. We also did “The Novel in the Viola (The House at Tyneford)” at book club but I read that last year before the Reader’s day. Still behind of course but there is time.. and Middlesex should count as two… it was VERY long…
Perhaps that is all I need to say? Well there were some nice descriptions and evidence of research of the interwar social scene with references to Baba Metcalfe, née Curzon, daughter of the Viceroy of India, but there is also a lot of convenient coincidence and the modern characters are not especially likeable or memorable and it all seems a bit clichéed and contrived. Also gratujtous and rather incongruous use of very strong language ..maybe Tessaro wants to be an edgier writer than she is? This is a book you might give to your Grandmother if only you could cure its Tourette’s.
My only excuse is that as soon as I started the blog I got a new work assignment at the limit of my travelling range and in combination with the continual appalling weather and other commitments I haven’t had a lot of time. Also I find it hard to work the blog functions on a seven inch tablet so need to get on a proper computer.
Anyway I haven’t failed quite as badly as my silence might indicate since I did join the reading group at the local arts centre and have really enjoyed it. The first book was, of course, all Quiet on the Western front which we all loved and got 9/10. The second was The Switch by Elmore Leonard.
Now I have to admit that he was only a name until I read the book and I don’t know if I would read more by him I certainly would go to see films based on the work. His styke is rather economical for me – I rather like descriptions! It was too much like reading a play. However it was an “honest” crime book in that he didn’t cheat.. the clues were there…
What next? Well the next book club book is The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons, which I have read but very swiftly (in preparation for attending the “Readers’ Day” at the Forest Arts Centre in November so I will need to reread. Will have to try to be objective and not be unduly influenced by the fact she is such a delightful person. I did like the book but I liked the other one of her’s I have read since), Mr Rosenblum’s list, better.
Well the library is about to close and the man on the next computer is not only coughing and spluttering, which I suppose he can’t help but talking to himself which I suspect he can. He is alson rustling, fidgeting and slurping from a drink (in the library my dears!), so I will close before I murder the poor chap… did I mention that I am disproportionately annoyed by quiet noises… but have slept through hurricanes… hey ho.
This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.
This book must have been my father’s. It is an old hardback “cheap edition”, that has been on the shelves as long as I can remember. I don’t think I have ever made a serious attempt at reading it before and given the state of the book it is possible Dad didn’t either. Maybe he was was just more careful with his books.
It is my first choice simply because it is book of the month at the Arts Centre on the 13th and it may help this endeavour to have a focus – who knows if anyone will read this. Anyway it seems appropriate to start this year with a First World War book. On 12th January it will be 98 years
since my great uncle was killed by Immelmann for which triumph the German ace became the first recipient of the Pour la Merite or Blue Max medal. My great uncle had lied about his age to join up and served for a year in the Motor Cycle Corps before transferring to the RFC . He survived for three days post training .
I love reading. I have degrees in literature and more books than I have shelf space for but in recent years I seem to have lost the habit and find I can go a long time without reading something new. So I am going to try to read a book a week for a year. It may not be exactly a book a week. I was working on the basis of a threehundred page volume but one of the first on my bought not read pile is six hundred. Eek.