It was a long summer drive from one side of Wisconsin to the other side, and so I decided to fill up some of the quiet miles by telling my family about a book I was working my way through and just starting to get the hang of. Life After Life.
The story tracks an unusual British girl named Ursula through various lives she could have led, or may have led, or did lead, in the ominous years leading up to World War II. As the story repeatedly resets both itself and when/where/who precisely our heroine is, initially the novel is a challenge to track and to attach emotionally to. But then once you do, you really do.
Every couple weeks I’d bring Hurly and my niece up to date on how Ursula had recently been living and dying, and literally every time I retold her unfolding tales to them, I’d have to pause for moments on end in order for my heart and throat to cooperate long enough to turn my stifled sobs into actual words.
My ceaseless near-tears weren’t so much centered around sadness in the story but around the humanity and warmth that radiates through the book no matter how grimly war and death continue closing in around Ursula’s world/s.
For deja vu and flukes and fate might haunt us all and lead us seemingly far off course at times, but Ursula’s soul has a compass, it becomes clear. Nothing can tamper with it for her (or, I’d like to now think, for any of us).
Life After Life is a thick, heart-throbbing mega-treasure and you must spend your April reading it!
The author Kate Atkinson, must’ve been as moved and inspired by the characters in the novel as I was because she’s releasing a sequel/companion story to Life After Life titled A God in Ruins which, if you do your assigned April homework, you’ll be ready for upon its release on May 5.
Ruins shifts the narrative focus to Ursula’s beloved little brother Teddy. I’m not sure if his life and times will reset, over and over, as Ursula’s did. Either way, he’s now coming to terms with a post-war life he seemingly was destined to never have.
I can’t wait to spend time with Ursula and Teddy and their friends and family again. There’s a dog running around their story too. It always gets named Lucky.