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Words

Starting Over

New chapters, new chances

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Local readers in need of a little jolt to get them through the gray days of March will find it in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. It’s unlike any novel in recent memory in its construction and sheer audacity.

In chapter after chapter, the main character, Ursula Todd, is killed off, only to be reborn on the same day, to live a version of her life all over again. This is no lighthearted Groundhog Day, however. The somber tone is clear from the start, when Ursula pulls a gun on Hitler in a Munich café in 1930. SS officers aim at Ursula. Darkness falls.

The scene changes: a snowy night in 1910, a woman in labor at a large home, Fox Corner, at the north edge of London. The doctor is unable to make it through the blizzard. The umbilical cord wraps around baby Ursula’s neck, “The little heart. A helpless little heart beating wildly. Stopped suddenly like a bird dropped from the sky. A single shot. Darkness fell.”

Wow. But the next chapter begins again, and Kate Atkinson, as author and creator, gives Ursula another chance. Dr. Fellows braves the snow and is on hand to cut the umbilical cord. Ursula lives, only to die later when the family cat suffocates her in her crib. She dies again, as a toddler, swept out to the sea on holiday at Cornwall. Each time, the author resurrects her, until readers begin to get the pattern. Darkness falls. But instead of being grimly predictable, each version is wildly inventive, with Ursula’s life taking a different tack at every turn.

Certain characters fade, then reappear, in subsequent chapters: Ursula’s mother, Sylvie; her avant-garde aunt Izzie; her dear brother Teddy—who dies, then is reborn as a World War II pilot who becomes a German POW. Because readers get to see each character from many angles, a rich and detailed portrait emerges.

Atkinson is a masterful storyteller, as fans of her Jackson Brodie mystery series will attest. She doesn’t shy away from the dark and violent. She effortlessly ties together multiple story lines. Though Life After Life is complex, Atkinson keeps it easy to follow, and provides lots to ponder. What is the nature of fate? How many different ways could one’s life turn out?

Some may find Atkinson’s latest too contrived. Just when one starts to understand the novel, Atkinson changes the rules. As with any time-travel-type novel, one must suspend disbelief.  But, for those willing, it’s worth it to marvel at her creativity.

Christine Perkins is the Executive Director of the Whatcom County Library System. Perkins reviews fiction for Library Journal and loves discussing books each month with friends in two local book clubs.

SVCR Don McLean
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Events
Today
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

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Wild Things

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10:30am|Lynden Library

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Food Not Bombs

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Friday Night Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Whatcom Humane Society Wine Social

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

PhotoLUSH 2017

6:00pm|Lairmont Manor

Friday Night Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Always…Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

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King John

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

International Guitar Night

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

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Borealis Wind Quintet

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

Cupid's Arrow Final Weekend

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

MBT Rovers Bellingham Farmer’s Market
Tomorrow
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Ubu Roi

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Weird Washington

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

PhotoLUSH 2017

6:00pm|Lairmont Manor

Always…Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

King John

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

Cupid's Arrow Final Weekend

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Snow Play Day and Survival Skills

8:00am|Mt. Baker Ski Area

Children's Literature Conference

9:00am|Performing Arts Center

What's New in Organic Gardening

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Plant Society Ramble

9:30am|Maple Creek Loop

UFO Primer

10:00am|Syre Hall

FiberFest 2017

10:00am|La Conner Middle/High School

Intro to Ancestry

10:00am|Ferndale Library

Winter Trail Run Series

10:00am|BBMX Park

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Smelt Run

10:00am|La Conner Middle School

Kids Can Cook

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Washington Beer Open House

12:00pm|Whatcom and Skagit counties

An all-season outdoor expo

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Tax Help

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Weird Washington

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Peace Corps Revisited

3:00pm|Lynden Library

Geology Underfoot

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Starry Night Chamber Orchestra

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Whatcom Writes

4:00pm|Village Books

Wishes for Our Stars Gala

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Contra Dance

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7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

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Wetzel's World

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Sunday
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Arsenic and Old Lace

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Into the Woods

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Up the Down Staircase

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Bayshore Symphony Winter Concert

7:30pm|Central Lutheran Church

Rabbit Ride

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Refugee Talk

2:00pm|Christ the Servant Lutheran Church

Northwest Cancer Summit

2:00pm|Bellingham Golf and Country Club

Sting and Piano Chamber Concert

3:00pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

The Tao of Raven

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The Irish Rovers

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