Book Review: Life After Life

by Kate Atkinson

It is difficult to know how to define Life After Life, Kate Atkinson’s 2013 Costa Book Award winning novel. It is part Historical Fiction because of its authentic depiction of English life both during and between the World Wars, however, since the protagonist is repeatedly reincarnated into the same life, it could more precisely be placed in the Sci-fi sub genre category of Time Travel.

It all begins (and keeps beginning) on 11th February 1910, during a particularly heavy snow storm, but the end date varies according to what at first appear to be quite minor decisions on the part of Ursula – the third child of Sylvie and Hugh Todd – which only too often lead to devastating, life-changing and not infrequently tragic consequences for herself and those around her.

This is a book about second chances and what-ifs. It also reveals hidden secrets, explores love in its myriad forms and displays sheer British pluckiness in the face of nightly bombing raids during the Blitz. All this is borne with understated humour and stiff upper lip by the Todd family as they move through varying versions of the same life.

Kate Atkinson’s ingenious novel shows us how small changes of behaviour can have seismic repercussions throughout history. She also left me wondering how some of the terrible events of the 20th century might have been avoided.

Incidentally, this is the first in a duology about the Todd family, the second being A God in Ruins (2015).

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Book Review: Zennor in Darkness

by Helen Dunmore

The British poet, novelist and children’s writer, Helen Dunmore died of cancer at the age of 64 on 5th June 2017. Sad to say, I have only now come to her work with this, her very first novel, published in 1993.

Winner of the McKitterick Prize, Zennor in Darkness could best be described as a rich, intricate, intensely lyrical historical novel. Set in the spring of 1917, at a time when the controversial author, D.H. Lawrence, and his German wife, Frieda (pejoratively referred to as “Hunwife” by wary locals who suspected the unconventional couple of being enemy spies) sought refuge from war-obsessed Britain in a tiny Cornish coastal village close to St Ives. Their story is interwoven with those of finely drawn fictional characters, in particular, Clare Coyne, a young artist they befriend.

This mesmerizing, poignant novel, which explores what it means to belong and how it feels to be an outsider in a tight, ultra-traditional community, seeks to define courage amid a miasma of gossip, scandal and innuendo.

All told, Dunmore published twelve novels. I intend to read each one of them, probably in sequence. Sheer indulgence? Maybe, but I’m thoroughly hooked and have much catching-up to do!