I was really looking forward to this. It seemed like my kind of book. I’d enjoyed all the previous Kate Atkinson stories I’d read.
It is a novel, based around what I suppose you’d call a device or a conceit: that a life can be lived again and again, with false stops (deaths) and variations. In a way it seems to relate to ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ (Audrey Niffenegger), or maybe ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks; or, in some strange way, to that excellent novel, ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls. I suppose the central theme, that of alternative versions of the plot, reminds me of ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’. I wonder if this type of structure would have been used in anything else except for science fiction if it hadn’t been for the parallel universes theories that are popular in modern physics. Dangerous territory, but I think quantum states come into this.
The novel starts in 1910 with the birth of the chief protagonist, Ursula. She dies; then it starts again. And then again. You get the idea. After the first few pages, I thought this device might become repetitive- and by half-way through, I thought it had become repetitive. I started to anticipate Ursula’s death, so it seemed less significant. However, she is a well-rounded and believable character; even sympathetic.
Parts are very moving- the loving references to the family home, family relationships, loving yet trying. Something in the tone reminds me of E.M. Forster, although I don’t claim to be an expert on him. Perhaps it was the family; perhaps it was the setting. I was pleased to find that in her notes Atkinson says the ghost of Forster was always at her back.
Pages set in the Blitz are very good. Kate Atkinson says she has based a lot of the detail on wartime accounts, and this research was well worth it.
It is poetic writing, in a way, in its variations on a theme, and this will no doubt be cited by its champions. Personally- and remember, this is just the view of an unsophisticated reader with little literary education- in the end, I just wanted this to be a straight narrative. I have more of Atkinson’s work that I want to try, and I would recommend this book as a thought-provoking read. Opinions, anybody?