April 21, 2013

Book Review: Atkinson enthralls in latest narrative

The main character dies, then returns as the nature of destiny is explored.

By CONNIE OGLE, McClatchy Newspapers

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"LIFE AFTER LIFE." By Kate Atkinson. Reagan Arthur. 527 pages. $27.99

And then, horror: "Mangled bodies were strewn around, many of them no more than limbless torsos, like tailor's dummies, their clothes blown off. ... A stretcher-bearer, lacking as yet any live casualties, was picking up limbs -- arms and legs that were sticking out of the rubble. He looked as if he was intending to piece the dead together again at a later date."

A message delivered after one terrible raid -- "Ted has caught one, I'm afraid" -- sets Ursula on her final course, but is it final? If she stops the war before it starts, won't she just die and have to do it all over again? Her particular course of action means almost certain death. So will she change things in the long run?

"Life After Life" isn't science fiction; it's ambitious literary fiction exploring the nature of destiny and what we might do to change it if we could. But even fantasy has to make sense on its own terms, and the book falls short of that goal. Still, there's much to treasure here. "Life was going on. A thing of beauty," Ursula notes at one point, just before the darkness takes her. Atkinson's novel unearths the joy in the simple passing of our days.


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