After listening to about three minutes of Life After Life I became entirely baffled as to how this wonderful, wonderful work was completely (and disturbingly) overlooked for the Man Booker Prize 2013? Why oh Why and How on earth did some of those other titles appearing on the long-and-shortlists rise above this stellar achievement? It is baffling and disturbing to say the least! Luckily those over at The Guardian’s “Not-the-Booker” awarded Life after Life the award. And, recently it was appropriately named a finalist in The Costa Novel Award. (I think I’ll start following the Costa Awards more closely!) I believe I’m safe in saying that for all of us here at the Literary Hoarders we are pulling for it to take the prize. Certainly, Elizabeth, whom named Life After Life as her very favourite of the year, will be anxious to hear the announcement and the crowning of Atkinson as the (rightful) winner.
Life After Life is a marvellously crafted tale about Ursula Todd, born in 1910 during a winter storm and dies during childbirth. Ursula Todd is again born in 1910 during a winter storm and survives. Then, once you’ve caught on to this game, you are pulled way, way in and find yourself never, ever wishing to leave. What if you could go back in time and alter your path? What if you could go back in time and save those that are closest to you from an unfortunate and early demise? What if you could go back in time and make tweaks to your life and those around you so that only the best is the result? For Ursula Todd, this is precisely what she is able to do after every time “the darkness falls” upon her. She is never able to shake the ever-present feeling of déjà-vu, and Ursula takes us through an incredible journey where those feelings shape and alter how she approaches major events in her life. Time after time. It’s marvelous.
The originality of the tale aside, what I really enjoyed as well was Atkinson’s writing of the Todd family dynamics. I loved spending time with this family, and the love with which she writes for them. She gives you wonderful family characters that you either want to throttle or hold tight. Despair for some will grip your heart and you’ll wonder and be left highly intrigued as to how Ursula may change the course of events that befall them. She gave us Sylvie, Ursula’s mother (the woman that pissed me off regularly) and her best-friend and elder sister Pamela (Pammy) and the beloved younger brother Teddy. She even perfectly presents the despised by all, including his parents, the eldest son/brother Morris (and Derek Oliphant will be a name that sends chills down your spine!)
What heightened the enjoyment of this story to glorious levels is the (amazing, incredible, fantastic, fabulous, splendid) narration by Fenella Woolgar. Words cannot express how freaking fantastic her narration is. She gave every character a rich, satisfying and distinct voice. Truly, I believe this is the very best audiobook narrator I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. Elizabeth and I have continued to say how desperate we are for Fenella to follow us around and babble on about the goings on around us, to read us a bed-time story, honestly, she could read the telephone book to us and we would be entranced and begging for more. I don’t know to where or whom we write, but there needs to be a campaign started where she is given the job of narrating every single audiobook recorded.
“Startingly imaginative, darkly comic, deeply poignant – this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.” A great quote about Life After Life. You really should read this before it is crowned the Costa Novel Award. 4.5 stars – near perfection*!
And honestly, if you can, please, please, please treat yourself to this audiobook. If you listen to only one audiobook in your life, make it this one.
(*I found there was the overuse of the word “salubrious” and the part(s) concerning Eva Braun and Hitler I felt to weaken the story. But those are just very minor details for me in an overall fabulous tale!)