Thursday, 25 April 2013
Life after Life - Kate Atkinson
I've been reading the Kate Atkinson book that is in the pop charts at the moment. Without giving away secrets, it's the one where the main character Ursula is killed off in the first proper chapter. Then we get a recut of the same story, which develops further, until she dies again. And then a further story. Similar, but with necessary butterfly wing beats of difference.
The writing style exercises a variety of creative freedoms, building a storyline via a repeating process most succinctly described as similar to the idea in the movie Groundhog Day.
There's a big difference though, that the prior versions of living are not conveniently remembered, nor is a single actor the pivot for the whole outcome.
I found it quite like the development of a neural network, with a kind of adaptive learning occurring through each iteration of the story-telling. Less a deja-vu sensation, more a prescient awareness.
Of course, the process was having the same effect on both the character and the reader, and for me it was after about 15% of the novel that it really dropped into place. Altogether an interesting way to play a mind game through the story telling and characterisations. Also the way one understands some of the averted outcomes in the later variants.
The action takes place between 1910 and after the end of the second world war, beginning in a fair and pleasant English countryside. There's a range of often bleak scenarios that play out against this bucolic backdrop.
For me, the narrative had to be sampled across the varied outcomes and sometimes pieced together. Playfully, there are even a places where the author uses phrases like 'and so on' to illustrate that the reader probably knows a particular version well enough by now.
Altogether an enjoyable read.
My photo of the cover illustrates another reading point as well. This is a substantial hardback book complete with its single sewn in bookmark. Someone really working at the detail of the plot could probably use three of those markers to be able to compare and contrast the outcomes. It's heft can bulkily fill a bag or make a small weapon.
My own neurons firing, I consequently adapted my own approach to reading it, having learned during the first third of the book. If I wanted to read it quickly, to carry it around, I needed a compact solution.
Yes, I Kindled it.
I find I'm moving to Kindle for modern novels. For older books I'll stick with paper, and also for books with pictures, but for the simple printed word I think I've reached that cutover point to electronic distribution.