Kate Atkinson. Life After Life. Toronto: Bond Street Books/Random House of Canada Limited, 2013.
Top of the bestseller list as I write this (posted months after the fact). "What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did it right?"―from the book's frontispiece. That sets it up properly. Ursula Todd is born in varying scenarios and her life takes different tacks as one path dissolves to another. "Getting it right" is not a conscious choice as little Ursula ages. Her lifetime, interrupted or re-directed one might say, spans a period from the First World War to the Cold War. Brief overlapping is imposed as time and perspective shift. So inventive!
The oh-so-British Todd family is a living, breathing mass/mess of oddly endearing characters in a story that touches about every emotion in the reader. Vivid details submerge us amongst the bombing of London, the daily banalities of Eva Braun's existence, the strength of sibling support. Author Atkinson is quite brilliant by any standards. Being a die-hard mystery lover, I have to say I prefer the irresistible dry humour that seems more bountiful in her Jackson Brodie series. Yet Life After Life is a tour de force not to be missed.
A wrong path:
It was the longest walk of her life. Her heart was beating so fast she thought it might give out. All the way she expected to hear his footsteps running up behind her and him yelling her name. At the ticket office she had to mumble "Euston" through a mouthful of bloody, broken teeth. The ticket clerk glanced at her and then quickly glanced away. Ursula supposed he had no precedent for dealing with female passengers who looked as if they had been in bare-knuckle fights. (226)
Ursula finished her drawing and handed it over for appraisal."What is it?" Sylvie said, peering over Ursula's shoulder. "Some kind of ring, or circlet? A crown?""No," Dr. Kellet said, "it's a snake with its tail in its mouth." He nodded approvingly and said to Sylvie, "It's a symbol representing the circularity of the universe. Time is a construct, in reality everything flows, no past or present, only the now.""How gnomic," Sylvie said stiffly.Dr. Kellet steepled his hands and propped his chin on them. "You know," he said to Ursula, "I think we shall get on very well. Would you like a biscuit?" (448)
Kate Atkinson. Started Early, Took My Dog. Doubleday Canada/Random House of Canada Limited, 2010.
Not exactly coincidence that I quickly ordered this from the library after/during the above. Seems I forgot I'd read it already (hungering for Jackson Brodie), the precise reason I began this boring series of books I read and forgot about. Moving on, I had to re-read it anyway so I could remember what happened. Pure delight. Jackson finds a dog to be his new best friend, an ex-policewoman finds love with a kidnapped child, an adoptee finds her birth information—everyone more or less comes up a winner in this crazy, complicated mystery of murder, conspiracy, and discombobulation. Yes, elements of genealogy but that's only part of the fun.
So far this book is the most recent in a series. No word on Atkinson's website if and when the irresistible detective will appear again in print, but lucky U.K. peeps will soon be watching the second season of the TV series about Jackson Brodie, Case Histories, based on earlier novels by the author.
Jackson took out his Swiss Army knife and, showing it to the dog, said, "Man's best friend." The dog sat passively while Jackson cut through the tightly knotted rope around its neck. "Good dog," Jackson said.When Jackson first encountered the dog it had seemed unruly, but now seemed merely full of spirit, walking nicely on the lead, no pulling or messing about, and appeared delighted to be in Jackson's company. He wondered if he looked foolish striding along the streets with a small dog on a lead trotting purposefully by his side. He wondered how women felt about men with small dogs. Would they think he was gay? Would they find him more trustworthy than a man without a dog? (Hitler liked dogs, he reminded himself.) (70-71)
Real cop at work:
Barry went into the Best Western, his warrant card blazing a trail ahead of him. The woman behind the desk was taken aback by his bullish entrance. She was wearing full air-hostess makeup, a suit a size too small for her and had her hair pinned up in a style so complicated it had surely needed a couple of Victorian ladies' maids to arrange it that morning. On the lapel of the jacket was a badge that said Concierge, as if that might be her name. Barry remembered when hotel concierges were all unscrupulous middle-aged blokes who were on the take left, right and centre. (241)