A Book for Every Year…

I got the idea for this post primarily from the brilliant Christa over at A Voluptuous Mind who posed a list earlier in the year of her favourite movies from every year she has been alive.

I got to thinking what my favourite books would be and inspired by the 1951 Club, I thought I would list my choice for the best books of 1971 to 2015! The reason I’m stopping at 2015 is because I didn’t read any notable new releases in 2016 or so far this year given my on-going book ban. Some years were easier than others – 1971 was pretty tough, but I had to debate between several books for 1993! Some were read at the time (although obviously I wasn’t reading John Berger on my first birthday!) and some only recently, but they represent a selection of some of my favourite books!

So, let’s kick off and see if any of your favourites are here too!

1971 – 1980

1971: The Dead Zone by Stephen King

1972: Ways of Seeing by John Berger

1973: Deenie by Judy Blume

1974: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig

1975: American Buffalo by David Mamet

1976: Will you Please be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver

1977: Dispatches by Michael Herr

1978: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

1979: The Executioners Song by Norman Mailer

1980: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

1981 – 1990

1981: Good Behaviour by Molly Keane

1982: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

1983: Fool for Love by Sam Sheperd

1984: Money by Martin Amis

1985: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

1986: Perfume by Patrick Suskind

1987: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

1988: Libra by Don DeLillo

1989: A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving

1990: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

1991 – 2000

1991: Seeing Things by Seamus Heaney

1992: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

1993: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha! By Roddy Doyle

1994: The Skriker by Caryl Churchill

1995: Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

1996: Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane

1997: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

1998: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

1999: Plainsong by Kent Haruf

2000: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

2001 – 2010

2001: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

2002: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

2003: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

2004: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

2005: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

2006: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

2007: Remainder by Tom McCarthy

2008: A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

2009: A Scattering Christopher Reid

2010: A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

2011 – 2015

2011: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

2012: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

2013: Tenth of December by George Saunders

2014: A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

2015: Tender by Belinda McKeon

Any of these take you back to a specific year? Or is anyone else tempted to make a list of their own? I’d quite like to do the same for music and movies, if I can find the time!

A 3rd Birthday and a Giveaway!

Today is my Blogversary!

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Yep, it’s been three long years since I counted up all those books, almost had a heart attack and planned to cut down the TBR.

So, it’s another year done and how far on am I? I’m so close to the 500s I can taste it! Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have reached that milestone. 146 books in 3 years isn’t great, but it’s better than the pre-blog days and if I keep up the momentum, 746 books will be done and dusted by 2028. Go me!

Despite having made it through another year without buying myself a book, I have acquired books through other means. My use of Net Galley has risen and I did receive quite a few books from publishers this year. I have tried to stick to my (very loose) rules and only read new books by Irish writers, but this little habit has definitely slowed my progress in my challenge. I may have read 71 books this year, according to Good Reads, but I only reduced the 746 by 47.

Reading aside, I’ve had another great year on the blog. According to my friends at WordPress, I’ve had over 23,000 views and 11,500 visitors. I was also delighted this year to pass my 1,000 follower mark, so thanks to you all for continuing to read.

Highlights this year have been the second annual Reading Ireland Month back in March which generated over 100 posts.

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Plans are already afoot for 2017, which I will again be co-hosting with my pal Niall of Raging Fluff fame, so if you have any books by Irish authors lurking in your TBR why not save them until March and join in the craic. This year I’ll be focusing entirely on Irish women writers, but there will be lots of other fun posts and giveaways.

20 Books of Summer also went down a treat this year, with over 120 fantastic bloggers participating and as a bonus, I actually managed to read all 20 of my books! This feature will certainly be back in 2017 as it gives my reading a real kick up the butt mid-year!

Once again I was delighted to make the finals of the Irish Blog Awards for the best Books and Literature blog – getting that far never ceases to amaze me! Plus I clearly take every opportunity throughout the year to show off about it….

finalist

On a personal level, 2016 has been both a difficult and an amazing year. Since this time last year I had the real pleasure of interviewing Nuala O’Connor and Dame Fiona Kidman for the Belfast Book Festival and of course, I started a new and wonderful job at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy. Leaving the job I had done for 17 years was frightening and daunting, but I have to say that I have never been happier. I adore my new job, surrounded by books, poetry and writers all day; it feels like it was made for me!

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The intensity of my new position and some health issues this year meant that I haven’t blogged as much as usual. I am trying to rectify that and make some time for this lovely little corner of the blogosphere I call home and I just hope I can continue with the same enthusiasm next year.

I’ve never really been one for a year round up, but this year I am picking my five best reads of 2016. Of course, these haven’t been published in 2016 but you all know what I mean!

  1. The Republic of Love – Carol Shields

For sheer enjoyment, Carol Shields wonderful, heartwarming, sprawling tale of love in all its forms tops my list of the year. I didn’t read another book that made me as happy as this one.

  1. Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

I didn’t get to join in with Heaven Ali’s Woolfalong as much as I would have liked, but I am so delighted that it nudged me to read this luminous, wonderful book, that was everything I hoped and more

  1. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha – Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle makes it into my Books of the Year list for the second time. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha was nothing like I imagined. It was simply magnificent.

  1. The Rose Garden – Maeve Brennan

Maeve Brennan was my author of the year, with both this collection of spiky short stories and her wonderful novella The Visitor. She’s undergoing a bit of resurgence here in Ireland and next year I plan to read her biography by Angela Bourke and her collected works from the New Yorker, which have just been published by Stinging Fly

  1. Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Kate Atkinson

Can Kate Atkinson do no wrong? Ruby Lennox stayed with me long after I closed this book which is wonderfully plotted and beautifully uplifting.

I’m looking forward to a positive 2017. With Reading Ireland Month and 20 Books of Summer planned, I also hope to start a feature called ‘The Books that Built the Blogger’ where my favourite bloggers chat about the books that made them into the readers and bloggers they are today.

built-bloggers

Each month I plan to chat about a book which has formed and influenced my reading life as well. If you’d be interested in taking part, drop me an email, I’d love to hear from you.

Finally, as it’s a birthday and a birthday needs presents, I’m hosting a little giveaway today. Up for grabs is a paperback copy of Mike McCormack’s critically acclaimed one sentence novel ‘Solar Bones’

solar-bones

Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize and Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards this year, Solar Bones has been called ‘an extraordinary hymn to small town Ireland’ by The Guardian. To win a copy, just comment below. I’ll draw a winner on Monday 12 December and will post world-wide.

Good luck and thanks, as always, for reading

x

No 629 Behind the Scenes at The Museum by Kate Atkinson

I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but sometimes when I read a book that I have loved, I find it very hard to write a review that I feel will do it justice. As always with Reading Roulette, you picked an amazing book for me to read and I only hope I can capture a hint of what I loved about it.

BehindTheScenesAtTheMuseum

In Kate Atkinson’s wonderful family epic, a character is reading À la recherché du temps perdu by Marcel Proust and Ruby Lennox, our narrator notes,

‘I see it is about ‘the metaphysical ambiguity of reality, time and death and the power of sensation to retrieve memories and reverse time’. Exciting stuff – but how can time be reversible when it gallops forward, clippity-clop and nobody ever comes back. Do they?

It’s a good question, because in between these pages, people do come back. Vividly and evocatively a whole family of Lennox women appear to exist simultaneously in the mind of Ruby, who narrates her own tale of growing up in 1950s York in between ‘Footnotes’, artfully arranged vignettes of the lives of the women who have made her. The reader doesn’t follow the path of the Lennox family, rather we are taken on a grand waltz, swirling and dancing with different partners but always brought back to Ruby.

It’s a perfect marriage of form and narrative as this family saga of four generations reminds us that we are where we have come from, the past is always closer than we think and family secrets have a way of resurfacing no matter how well we believe them to be buried.

Ruby is an all seeing narrator. Echoing another child of York, Tristram Shandy, the book opens at the moment of her conception. The youngest child of unhappy Bunty and adulterous George, Ruby is silent and watchful, at the mercy of sisters Gillian and Patricia yet able to see through everyone. She recounts her story , from birth, through childhood and school, significant world events and on to adulthood. Laced in and out of Ruby’s tale are other stories from her family history, condensed tales that often could be novels in their own right. We learn of her grandmother Nell’s attempts to find a husband in WW1, her great-aunt Ada’s death from diphtheria aged just 12 and her own mother Bunty’s attempts to make something of her life during WW2, only to be continually and perpetually disappointed. The story of Ruby’s great-grandmother Alice, who runs off to France with a travelling photographer is particularly poignant. Years later, searching the streets of York for the family she gave up, she is killed in a bomb raid, clinging to the photograph of the family she has never forgotten.

york

York

The depth and emotive power of these footnotes and the sheer amount of detail they contain could be overwhelming, but Ruby’s arch, all-knowing narrative takes this saga of births, deaths, abandonments and mysteries and makes it exhilarating – an anarchic, messy cacophony of characters and voices that make up the reality of family life.

It is a vast, complicated narrative, dense with detail and rich with life. It should be depressing, but the underlying joy of Ruby’s narrative voice, replete with tragi-comic knowing and black comic irony keeps a cool, humorous, unsentimental tone throughout much of the book. There are some fantastic set-pieces – a family wedding that ends in the ignominious death of Ruby’s father; an ill-advised holiday to Scotland and in particular, the recounting of Gillian’s death following a pantomime on Christmas Eve results in Patricia and Ruby eyeing up Gillian’s presents under the tree and wondering just how long they need to wait before they can open and reapportion them.

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Kate Atkinson

Death is everywhere in a novel that spans so many generations and is celebrated for its capriciousness. When a soldier gets a posting looking after sniffer dogs during the War, you just know things aren’t going to end well. In the space of one short paragraph, Ruby’s grandmother Nell gains and loses a fiancée courtesy of appendicitis.

Atkinson writes incredibly well about war and how it affects those directly and indirectly involved. Scenes of trench warfare are vivid and heartrending and the toll taken on those waiting at home is also delicately handled.

Frank found himself unexpectedly tongue-tied. He had through there were a lot of things about the war he wanted to tell them but was surprised to discover that the neat triangles of bread and jam and the prettiness of the little blue forget-me-nots somehow precluded him from talking about trench foot and rats, let alone the many different ways of dying he had witnessed.

The dichotomy between the expectations of war and the realities it brings are teased out. For Bunty, the war was a chance to become someone else but that does not happen and for others it brings survival where death was expected.

As with the depictions of war, the deceptively naïve humour often gives way to some really affecting moments – Alice passing one of her long-lost children in the street without knowing him and Ada trying to come to terms with the disappearance of her mother during her short, unhappy life are beautifully poignant.

Amongst these deaths, missing mothers, fallen soldiers and lost children, there is one final death, unforetold that Ruby cannot brush off with the unsentimentality of youth. It is a death that retells her entire life. Despite her narrative omnipotence there is one secret she doesn’t know and her exploration of the Lennox family life feels at times like she is diving into her past for the one nugget of truth that will explain everything.

And my heart is breaking, breaking into great jagged icy splinters. I breathe in bug noisy gulps because I’m drowning on air, and if I could cast a spell to stop time – suspend it for ever and ever, so that the cobwebs grew over my hair and the ducks stopped in the middle of their circles and the feathers lay still on the air, drifting through time for ever – then I could do it.

But Ruby knows that time cannot be stopped and life, or death cannot be explained and that is the crux of this book.

Behind The Scenes at the Museum could be seen as the story of women through the generations. The choices of Ruby’s great grandmother Alice, who gives up a job for a drunken husband and eventually chooses to abandon her family aren’t all that different from those of her daughter, or even her grand-daughter Bunty. They are all trying to find their place in the world through the men they chose, or the men who chose them and they all find that place lacking.

She pushed her hair back from her forehead in a centuries-old gesture of suffering. The life of a woman is hard and she’ll be damned if anyone is going to rob her of her sainthood

And yet, there are women here who make their own choices – Great Aunt Lillian who won’t name the father of her illegitimate baby and the wonderful Patricia who never does what is expected of her. The timelines may be confusing, but Atkinson sets up beautiful echoes that ring back and forward through the years of these women ‘lost in time’.

It is as if she is trying to find them again, these lost women, to reclaim them – their lives, their stories – and preserve them for our posterity. She creates a museum of lives, where items take on talismanic worth. A rabbit’s foot, a button, a silver locket, a set of photographs that make their way around the world and back. A child’s teddy bear. Belongings convey meaning and history.

Ruby’s friend is saving items for her ‘bottom drawer’ and Ruby muses on what she would include in hers.

What would I put in my bottom drawer? I would put the horizon, and some snatches of birdsong, the blossom-like snow in the garden of the Treasurer’s House and the white ruined arches of St Mary’s Abbey below, like petrified lace…

I have been to the world’s end and back and now I know what I would put in my bottom drawer. I would put my sisters.

The emotional investment in things, in places and ultimately in people creates millions of personal museums, countless bottom drawers of the mind where the minutiae and memories of our lives become the greatest artefacts we have.

A breeze ruffles the grass in the cemetery and moves the clouds faster across the stretched canvas of the sky above. Patricia lifts her face up to the pale sun s that for a second she looks almost beautiful.

‘I don’t think the dead are lost forever anyway, do you, Ruby?’

‘Nothing’s lost forever, Patricia, it’s all there some-where. Every last pin

Kate Atkinson has taken every last pin in this story and infused it with warmth, humour and a sense of exhilaration that is as ambitious and assured as it is moving and true.

Thanks to everyone who cast a vote for this fantastic book, I enjoyed it so much.

 

Read On: Book

Number Read: 118

Number Remaining: 628

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate Atkinson triumphs (in Reading Roulette!)

 

So, I have a winner!

reading roulette

Kate Atkinson won this month’s Reading Roulette, so my next read is Behind The Scenes at the Museum.

BehindTheScenesAtTheMuseum

It was a close race with The Age of Innocence looking like the favourite for a few days. Bogeywoman rallied briefly (thanks Melanie!), as did Empire Falls, but the Atkinson won out in the end – just!

I quite liked this month’s selection so I think they will all appear on my 20 Books of Summer list next month. Except maybe Empire Falls. It’s long. Very long. It may have to wait until the autumn…

Thanks to all who voted!

 

Reading Roulette for May!

 

Master Image

So, it’s been a full 6 months since I last did a Reading Roulette, which means it’s time once again to put my literary fate in your capable hands and ask you to pick one of my May reads from the 746!

You’ve picked me some great winners in the past – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt and Eventide by Kent Haruf. Who will join them this time round? I’ve got six possibilities for you to choose from so have a look at the options and cast your vote.

Maybe you’ll choose a book because you loved it? Or because you still have to read it too? Or even because you hated it?!

I don’t really mind. I’m in your hands! Let’s see if you can pick me my new favourite book….

Reading Roulette April

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

I only came to Wharton a few years ago and she hasn’t let me down yet. I doubt she will.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

She may not have been shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize, but can she be the big winner in Reading Roulette?

Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon

I don’t remember buying this. I don’t know what it’s about. I read something positive about it recently. Vague, I know but it could be a hidden gem…

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

The New York Times calls him ‘one of the best novelists around’ and he’s won the Pulitzer Prize. Not bad. Plus there’s a movie adaptation. With Aidan Quinn. AIDAN QUINN. Why did I not know this before??*

The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

I’ve enjoyed everything else I’ve read by Ogawa, so I think this collection of three novellas will have that same quiet power that I love in her work.

White Noise by Don DeLillo

I call myself a DeLillo fan and I haven’t read White Noise? Shame on me.

*

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You’re very welcome.

I’ve linked the titles to their Goodreads page just in case you want some more details on the books and I’ll keep the voting open until April 20th.

I’m not quite sure why these books have lingered on the TBR as I’d be quite happy for any of them to win. As a consolation prize, the losers might just find themselves on my 20 Books of Summer pile (once I double check the word count!).

So, have you read any of these? Which do you think will win? I have no idea! Get voting

Top Ten Tuesday – Get yer own book!

top ten tuesday
WARNING: This weeks post contains spoilers, particularly for Rebecca!

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is Top Ten Characters You Wish Would Get Their OWN Book. I think most books would be interesting told from another character’s viewpoint, but these are the ones I’d be most interested in reading.

  1. Rebecca DeWinter from Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
The unseen titular character, from Daphne Du Maurier’s classic novel could more than hold her own in a spin –off book. Maybe a prequel? A stunning beauty, who appeared to be the perfect society wife, was actually a cruel promiscuous liar, taunting her husband with her various affairs, faking a pregnancy and eventually driving her husband to shoot her so she doesn’t die of cancer. Mrs Danvers can stand aside; Rebecca DeWinter is the true villain of this tale and the most interesting character!

2. Lolita from Lolita by Nabokov
The fact that we never get to hear anything from Lolita’s point of view in Nabokov’s novel makes her all the more intriguing. Is she a shallow and manipulative young girl, using the men around her to get what she wants, or a confused, lonely victim of all the adults who are supposed to protect her? An attempt has been made in the critically mauled Lo’s Diary to give her a voice, but it reimagined the events of the book. How great would it be to hear the same book from Lolita’s point of view?

3. Miss Havisham from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Ah, Miss Havisham. That wedding dress, the banquet, those stopped clocks. Miss Havisham is less a character and more a walking manifestation of the pain of grief and the ravages of time. Her character is supposedly based on an Australian woman who left the wedding feast on the table and the door ajar in case her fiancee should return and her story is an intriguing one that captures the imagination.

4. Lucky from Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
While there is probably no point in hoping for back story in a play by Beckett, Lucky is one of the most intriguing characters in theatre. He speaks only 2 lines in the whole play, the trick being that one of those lines is over 700 words of gibberish. Why is he slave to Pozzo? Why can he only think when a hat is placed on his head? Why Lucky?

5. Kevin from We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
The central question in We Need to Talk About Kevin is this. Is Kevin born evil which makes his mother unable to love him? Or does Kevin become evil because of a lack of love from his mother? Only Kevin can answer that and I for one, would love to read what he has to say.


6. Melquíades from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
It takes a great character to stand out in a book covering seven generations of the one family, but the gypsy Melquíades has no problem doing so. He travels the world all year round, coming to Macondo once a year with the marvels he has discovered. He dies twice but still returns to guide the generations of the family whose lives he has foretold in prophecy. Yep, he’s a pretty cool guy.

7. Sick Boy from Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Of all the addicts in Trainspotting, Sick Boy is the one who seems to be using heroin as a lifestyle choice rather than due to addiction and when his mate Renton tries to kick the drug, Sick Boy does it too, just to show he can. He’s amoral, charming and cool and he knows a lot about Sean Connery but who can say how much the death of his daughter influenced his later scams?

8. Gertrude from Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Everything in Hamlet is Gertrude’s fault. She kicks off the entire story by marrying her brother in law shortly after her husband’s death and we never hear any reasoning for her choices. What do we make of her? Domineering, incestuous mother or victim of the men around her? I’d be intrigued to hear about the State of Denmark from her point of view.

9. Julian Morrow The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This enigmatic, charismatic and brilliantly intelligent teacher of ancient Greek comes across less like a professor and more like a cult leader to his hand-picked students. He is like a pastiche of the perfect university teacher – unconventional and cosmopolitan, friend of the famous (the Sitwell’s and Marilyn Monroe) and high priest of learning.

‘I hope we’re all ready to leave the phenomenal world and enter into the sublime?’

I know I am.

10. Sylvie Todd from Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I found Sylvie to be quite an intriguing character throughout Life After Life, but it wasn’t until the end that I realised quite how interesting she might be. Is Sylvie time travelling as well as her daughter Ursula? All it takes is one little line in the final chapters of the book to make us rethink her entire character. ‘One must be prepared’.

Is there any character you would like to get their own book? Or a book you think would be improved by being from another viewpoint?

No 699 Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

life after life

 

I often joke that I am only married to my husband because of the seat I picked on a train one day. By chance I sat opposite an old school friend; we were both relocating to Dublin and decided to look for a flat together. My husband was one of her friends who came to visit. Would I have met him if I hadn’t got into that carriage? Who can know?

But what if you could know? What if you had the gift (or the curse) of dying and being reborn over and over again so that you can change your future, so that you can get things right for yourself, your family and maybe even the world?

That’s the premise of Life After Life, a brave and bold novel that is part historical epic and part family saga and possibly even part science fiction, but always so much more than the sum of these parts.

The novel begins with a prologue that can’t help but grab the attention, as we meet Ursula Todd, in a small German cafe, assassinating Hitler with her father’s Great War revolver. We are then taken back to 1910 where a child is born on a snowy night, but dies after just a few moments in the world due her to umbilical cord wrapping tight around her neck.

Her helpless little heart was beating wildly, a bird trapped in her chest. A thousand bees buzzed in the curled pearl of her ear. No breath. A drowning child, a bird dropped from the sky. Darkness fell

The next chapter begins again, but this time the child survives. And so, with the premise set, we follow the child Ursula and her family as she grows up, living out her life time and time again. Ursula keeps dying, and dying again. She dies in childbirth, drowns, falls out of a window, and succumbs to influenza. She is murdered. She commits suicide. She dies in the bombing of London in World War II and in Berlin in 1945. The narrative continually starts again, but each time it takes a slightly different course, sometimes changing radically, sometimes only slightly altered, but always utterly unpredictable. The prologue, with the death of Hitler, might be the main signpost for where we are going, but the pleasure is in the journey.

Indeed, a great deal of 20th-century history transpires in the lives between Ursula’s sudden and often violent exits from life. Her existences, serial or parallel, take her through two brutal world wars and on into the 1960’s. But with each turn in her story is revised and therefore so is the outcome.

Atkinson is good at showing how an entire life can be changed irrevocably in an instant and how the seemingly smallest of decisions and timings can have devastating effects. In one life, there is a stolen kiss. In another life, that kiss becomes a rape. In one life, two girls collect leaves in a quiet lane, yet in another one of those children is killed. We are reminded time and again of how fleeting and random life can be. Atkinson seems at a glance to be suggesting that things will get better with repetition, that ‘practice makes perfect’ but never lets us get complacent. Ursula carries within herself, a sense of déjà-vu, dimly remembered fragments of her other lives that drive her actions.

She knew that voice. She didn’t know that voice. The past seemed to leak into the present, as if it were a fault somewhere. Or was it the future spilling in to the past? Either way it was nightmarish, as if her inner dark landscape had become manifest. Time was out of joint, that was for certain.

She feels there are things she should do, or not do, but is not always sure why. And while a certain chain of events will save Ursula from one fate, that chain of events may not save her friend, her brother, her father from another. It is as if she must decide which kind of story she wants.

We, the reader are implicated in this manipulation as well. It is as if Atkinson is asking, ‘what kind of narrative do you want?’ Do we want a happy ending? Do we want Ursula to save herself or those she loves? Or are we happy to be left with uncertainty, both about what might happen and about what already has happened? In Atkinson’s world, we can have it all. This might make the book seem ‘tricksy’ but don’t be fooled, this is no mere exercise in narrative form, although that in itself would make it impressive.

 

Photo: Andrew Crowley

Photo: Andrew Crowley

Despite being aware of the artifice behind the novel, the fiction behind the story, Atkinson’s tellings and re-tellings build our affection for Ursula and her family. It can be strange to fully invest in one scenario, only to be bereft (or relieved) to have it end and begin again, but each life builds on the past one to create a story that shines as layer after layer is glazed on. The life of the Todd’s at Fox Corner is beautifully rendered, with a surprising amount of humour. The narrative structure allows these familial relationships to grow, facets of characters to be revealed and in particular, it is Ursula’s relationship with her father Hugh that benefits the most from the skill of the storytelling. More love and affection shine through with every retelling and towards the end I felt that Ursula’s assassination of Hitler was as much a personal act – a chance for her to save her beloved brother Teddy – as it was to stop the war that she had seen from every angle.

The war is central to this novel, particularly the London Blitz and it is brought vividly to life by telling the core of the story, the bombing of a house in Argyll Street in 1940, from Ursula’s point of view as both victim and saviour. While I did think this section dragged a little and could have been 50 pages shorter, Atkinson created some images that will linger in my mind for a long time.

…a dress was hanging on a coat hanger from a picture rail. Ursula often found herself more moved by those small reminders of domestic life – the kettle still on the stove, the table laid for a supper that would be never be eaten – than she was by the greater misery and destruction that surrounded them. Although when she looked at the dress now she realized that there was a woman still wearing it, her head and legs blown off but not her arms

Yet, it is in the middle of the extraordinary nature of Ursula’s story that the ordinary shines through, the love for a brother; the kindness of an aunt; the protection of family. Ursula becomes almost an every woman, living all of female experience possible at that time – she is a mother, a sister, a ‘spinster’, a woman of independent means and a battered wife. She is raped, has an abortion and travels the world. Atkinson’s one constant in Life After Life is family and the notion that how where you are from will continue to shape you no matter what life brings.

Atkinson is clever enough not to provide any explanations or endings and in some ways she raises even more questions that she answers. Is there a hint that Ursula’s mother Sylvie is having the same experience as her daughter? We can’t be sure, just as we can’t be sure if Ursula kills Hitler and stops the war from happening. Whether she does or not may not even be the point, because the book ends right back at the beginning, it is the serpent with its tail in its mouth, continuing on.
 

Life After Life is an ambitious and absorbing novel and I’m looking forward to reading the other three Kate Atkinson books that I have in the 746. I’m delighted that you voted it as the winner of my inaugural Reading Roulette and if you’ve read any other books by Kate Atkinson, feel free to recommend which one I should go to next!
 
 

Read On: iBooks

Number Read: 48

Number Remaining: 698