“Time is a construct, in reality everything flows, no past or present, only the now.”
Thus a psychologist tries to explain to Ursula’s parents in Kate Atkinson’s brilliant novel, Life After Life, what their daughter is experiencing.
Atkinson is one of my favorite writers. Sometimes it might just be because of the title. How can you resist: Started Early, Took My Dog ?
In Life After Life she went out on a limb, writing a book about a girl, woman, Ursula, who keeps coming back. At first she dies being born. Then each time, she lasts a little longer. I won’t give away too much.
It’s interesting to note the book’s relatively low customer review rating on Amazon given all the accolades it received. I think that comes from two issues: it’s not an easy read. Your really have to focus. It’s difficult to get into the flow of the book and trace the different lifelines. Also, details really do determine things. And that brings up the second reason: I think the book disturbs readers. It disturbed me, but in a good way. It makes you see how the slightest event can determine the course of the rest of your life. And the lives of many other people.
One small example: on one lifeline, Ursula marries a German and ends up living in Berlin and is there during World War II. A chance encounter puts her in a hell on Earth years later as the Russians close in on Berlin. She’s the same person but in terribly different circumstances. Also, the lifeline she lives out almost completely, shows something that most people really would prefer not to see.
It’s a book that makes you think. I recommend it, but then again, I like considering possibilities. I often reflect on my life and think of how random so many things seemed to be, yet how significant. As a novelist, this book shows the power we wield over our characters. And how we have to find what the choices they make lead to. Because once those choices are made, we are no longer in control of those characters.
Originally published at www.writeitforward.com on May 11, 2016.