Monday, September 26, 2016
Book Review: Life After Life
I'm confused at the appeal (even my bookish friend, Amy, raved about it). I found it to be perplexing and tedious. There were long passages that left me wondering where the novel was going and when I would finally be done with it all and get to wherever it was heading. Then again, the ending was foretold in the first chapter. Even if I thought that ending was thought-provoking, the process of getting to that point took 529 plodding pages.
Ursula Todd is born on a snowy night in 1910, only to die when the umbilical cord wraps around her neck. But Ursula's life isn't truly over, for soon it is the same night and she is born a second time and survives. She goes on like this, living "life after life" in an attempt to get it right in the end somehow. Each life leaves ripples of dejavu in her other lives. Sometimes she takes the knowledge learned in a life (a boy who takes advantage in an isolated stairwell) and alters her existence so that she will not make the same mistake again. Sometimes not. The end goal is to right a wrong (infectious illness leading to death, murder, abusive marriage, etc.) and "practice makes perfect" until the ultimate wrong is righted through Ursula's actions.
It was hard to keep track of all the time-frames, the various lives lived, and the responses of others. It seemed like a shape-shifting novel throughout. You knew the main character would end up dying and starting life over again, but to what end? While philosophical arguments were raised (about concepts of time, the importance of individual moments, and the chance to make a difference with your life), they never left me with a sufficient take-away. I agree with Amazon reviewer, Maris Williams, who wrote: "the experience for the reader is much like The Funhouse of Mirrors, where everything warps and stretches every time you move." Another reviewer wondered if the author had written the story and then simply tossed the pages in the air and compiled them as they fell (it was truly that disjointed). If I had it to do over again (this was a book club selection that I had voted for, because of the murmurs of greatness I had been hearing), I would have saved the hours spent devouring this tiresome tale.