Life after Life

 

Life after Life

Life after Life

Author: Kate Atkinson

Publisher: Random House

 

 

Life after Life is a complex, clever novel by English writer, Kate Atkinson.

It begins in England, 1910, with a snowstorm in which a baby is born but dies before she can take her first breath.

During this same snowstorm, the same baby is born, and lives.

This baby is Ursula Todd, and Life after Life is her story. This novel poses the interesting question, What if you were given a second chance, or third chance, or in fact an infinite number of chances to live your life and get it right? In Life after Life, Ursula gets to live her life many times over. We read her story in which she dies, and then  the same story is retold, with some crucial details changed, meaning her life is altered and she lives. It is a fascinating view – kind of like a choose your own adventure – and poses all kinds of questions about destiny, fate, and decisions. Because of this, the story is complex and it is not always easy to keep track of where you are within the story. Despite this, I found the novel quite mesmerizing.

Ursula was always considered by her family to be a unusual child. The family’s housekeeper, Bridget, remarks early on that Ursula “had the second sight.” That “there were doorways between this world and the next…but only certain people could pass through them.” Throughout her life, Ursula often has a strong sense that she has experienced things before – a kind of deja vu. “She was disturbed by herself. She dreamed of flying and falling all the time.”

Life after Life is an evocation of England during the early 20th Century. Despite being set during the second world war, I got a strong sense of the languid English summers Ursula spent at Fox Corner, her family’s house in rural England.

“It was beautifully hot and time treacled past every day with nothing more to do than read books and go for long walks”

This is the first novel by Kate Atkinson that I have read. It is a challenging, thoughtful novel and I highly recommend it.

9/10

Amber Road

Amber Road

Amber Road

Author: Boyd Anderson

Publisher: Random House

copy courtesy of the publisher via netgalley

It is 1941 Singapore, and the Japanese invasion is looming. A young, shallow, seventeen year-old, Victoria Khoo is preparing to be re-united with Sebastian Boustead. Sebastian has been studying in Cambridge, England and is returning home for the first time in a year. Victoria in is love with Sebastian and believes it is her destiny to marry him. Unfortunately for Victoria, Sebastian has brought his fiancée, Elizabeth with him. At Sebastian’s engagement party, Victoria meets Joe Spencer, a laid-back Australian who has come to Singapore as an exporter.

When the Japanese begin bombing Singapore, Victoria’s world is turned upside-down.  While her family moves to Johore, away from immediate danger, Victoria stays behind in Singapore with her father’s second wife, and looks after her grandmother.

Victoria is obsessed with the English way of life – she is constantly reading Manners for Women, a manual of etiquette. I found it interesting that many Chinese people living in Singapore during the Second World War considered themselves  to be more English than Chinese. Victoria and her siblings attended English schools, spoke English at home, and dressed in the English fashions of the day. The one instance where they didn’t feel English was the fact that their father had three wives – as was the Chinese custom.

I have read a lot of books set during World War Two, but most have been set in Germany or England. This is the first one I’ve read that has been set in Singapore so I was very interested to read about the Japanese occupation of Singapore.

Victoria is a self-centred young girl who is forced to grow up quickly and use all of her resourcefulness to survive. I was often frustrated with her character. About two-thirds of the way through the book I thought she would come to her senses, forget about Sebastian, and fall in love with Joe, and while there is a love triangle for most of the book, she can never really move past Sebastian. I loved the character of Joe with his laid-back air and his sarcastic humour. He and Victoria end up going through so much of the war together, and I was really pulling for them as a couple. Alas, without giving too much away, I was quietly devastated by the ending. The romantic in me wanted the epic fairytale!

On another note, the cover is gorgeous, and definitely highlights the exotic location of the story. This was a terrific story and I recommend it for anyone interested in historical fiction, particularly that set during World War Two

8.5/10