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.

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Events
Today
Home for the Holidays

5:00pm|Ferndale Events Center

The 39 Steps

7:00pm|Sehome High School Little Theatre

Little Women

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Peter and the Star Catcher

7:00pm|Squalicum High School

Romeo, You Idiot!

7:30pm|Heiner Theater

Fools

7:30pm|Mount Baker High School

Craft Bazaar

9:00am|American Legion Post #43

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Hot Cider & Cool Art

10:00am|Morgan Block Studios

Used Book Sale

10:00am|Everson Library

Red Barn Handpicked Holiday Market

12:00pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

3:00pm|Lynden Library, Ferndale Library

It's Where the Sidewalk Ends

6:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

New Music, New Dance

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

The Big Short One-Act Festival

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

VFW Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Pancake Feed

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Holiday Bazaar

9:00am|Hillcrest Chapel

Christmas in the Woods

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Acme Elementary School

Turkey Trot

9:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Climate Reality

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

South Fork Winterfest

10:00am|Van Zandt Community Hall

Fall Gardening

10:00am|Lynden Library

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Lynden Book Club

10:30am|Everson Library

Salmon Sighting

12:00pm|Haynie Creek

Conquering Writer's Block

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Fishboy Holiday Show

2:00pm|FishBoy Gallery

NaNoWriMo and Indie Publishing

3:00pm|Everson Library

Skagit Wine & Beer Festival

3:00pm|Eaglemont

Homeless Summit and Cold Weather Giveaway

3:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

i.e. artists talk

3:30pm|i.e. gallery

Small Works Opening

4:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Smith & Vallee Artist Talk

4:00pm| Smith & Vallee Gallery

WA 129 Poetry Reading

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Giving from the Heart

7:00pm|Depot Art Center

A Light in the Darkness

7:00pm|Church of the Assumption

Welcome Home Celebration

7:00pm|Village Books

Ruach Consort

7:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Eagles Hall

Michael Kaeshammer

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Legends of the Blues V

7:30pm|Byrnes Performing Arts Center

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Peter and the Star Catcher

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Fools

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Holiday Festival of the Arts

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Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Getting in on the act

1:00pm

Sound of Music Singalong

1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

A Musical Thanksgiving

2:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Harmony from Discord with Whatcom Symphony Orchestra

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

The 25th Hour

4:00pm|Village Books

Southside Community Meal

5:00pm|Our Saviour's Lutheran Church

Way North Comedy Showcase

7:00pm|Farmstrong Brewing Co.

Rutie Dornfeld, John Miller

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Trove
Monday
Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Wander + Camber Beer Dinner

6:30pm|Camber Cafe

Rocks & Gems

7:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Community Building

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

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