Audiobook Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

lifeAfter 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 expressfenella-woolgar-profile 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!)

Audiobook Review: Life After Life

lifeI have a prediction.  That prediction is that Life After Life will be my favorite novel of 2013.

Yes, this novel is that good.  And don’t get me started on why this title was not nominated for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. That’s a complete mystery, especially considering the fact that I read several of this year’s nominees.  This novel was more deserving of the nomination than a few of the riddles that I encountered on the Booker list.  But I digress; it’s time for me to pen an ode to this magnificent work by Kate Atkinson.

Life After Life follows the lives (yes, lives) of Ursula Todd.  First born in 1910, she succumbs to a very early death, and darkness falls.  Immediately following, she’s born again.  She lives a little longer.  Darkness falls.  She’s born again…. lives a little longer… I think you get the idea.  Believe me, however, when I say that I’m oversimplifying the meaning behind the plot. This novel gave my soul an affectionate squeeze.  I adored every poignant word, and cannot overstate the impact that this book offers, if you open yourself to its message.

With each gift of life, Ursula becomes just a little wiser.  Just a little more worldly.  Just a little more aware.  She can’t shake the feeling that she’s been here before.  She can’t understand why there are moments when something evil seems to be patiently lurking around a corner, causing her to inexplicably take a different route.  The choices she makes affect her life in ways that she can’t even begin to fathom. As her wisdom grows, so too does her longevity.  So too, does her overall purpose.  Her lives eventually culminate into a breathless crescendo; one that left me both exhilarated and exhausted.  I also wanted to start all over again.  I now miss the characters terribly.

If I were to share more about the twists and turns of this novel, then I would be denying you the pleasure of discovery.  I cannot share how Ursula’s choices change her.  I cannot hint at how, after repeated attempts, Ursula is able to see true colors, defend herself, love the right people, and save lives.  To be given the opportunity to live over and over until you get it right…. is that a blessing, or a curse?  If you were given the chance to do everything again, what would you change?  How would your personality grow?  Would you stray from the beaten path, not knowing what was ahead?

This book brushes up against glimpses of the afterlife.  It touches on a form of reincarnation that will lead you to believe in extraordinary cases of cause and effect.  What kept popping into my mind was the Butterfly Effect chaos theory, which purports that a small change in one place can cause significant differences in a later state.  For me, that was Life After Life.  One tiny change was all it took to shape an entire life.  One seemingly minute alteration had the astounding power to affect happiness, social status, and purpose.  What could such hindsight do for history?  My guess is that it would do marvels, if in fact people were willing to learn from the mistakes of the past.  This brilliant book will haunt me for a long time, but in a very good way.

This audiobook was narrated by Fenella Woolgar, and after about 3 minutes of listening, I fully understood why they chose her for the novel.  I quickly became just as immersed in her voice as I was in the story. She embodied each character perfectly.  With tones of silk, Woolgar breathed life into every crevice of the story.  I do hope that I have the opportunity to hear her narrate again soon. She was truly remarkable.

Needless to say, I’m giving 5 heartfelt stars to Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.  Please get your copy today.  I promise that you will not be disappointed, because you never know if that stubborn “been here before” feeling is déjà vu… or wisdom.

Review: Case Histories

I’m going to say 3.25 stars.

Case Histories is about three interwoven mysteries, or actually, Cold Cases. Olivia, the little girl (sister to Sylvia, Amelia and Julia) that vanished in to thin air over thirty years ago; Laura Wyre, who was mercilessly murdered at her father’s law office; and Michelle, the husband-axe-murderer.

The mysteries were really very good, however, the writing was far too bland and too straightforward and it made it seem either choppy or just matter of fact plain? The ending just ended, although it did wrap up the mysteries, but it still felt as though it did just came to an abrupt end.

These unsolved cases were really very good and interesting, but the straight up, no embellishment or extra descriptives didn’t grab me. I’m also going to take in to consideration this is Atkinson’s first “Brodie” book, and I am completely willing to give it the benefit of the doubt because I do absolutely plan on reading more from her.

What really frustrated me however about this book were the chapters with the character Amelia (sister to the missing Olivia). In my opinion, utterly useless chapters. Completely wasted chapters that went on and on and on and on about her “spinterish” personality and what we have mercilessly hammered in to our brains about her incredibly inactive sex life, her obsession with her sister, Julia, and Julia’s very opposite and active sex life, her persistent flirting with Brodie, and with anyone around her and their sex life. Completely unnecessary and in my opinion began to distract from the story and I began to question what it had to do with their missing sister, Olivia.  I found myself skipping over huge chunks of these chapters.  Because, you know…once stated in a paragraph, the reader gets it. She’s a sexually frustrated, unattractive, bitter and repressed character. Got it. Clearly. Crystal. We didn’t need for it to be repeated continuously every time Amelia is mentioned. Very, very distracting from the cold cases.

So, overall, a very enjoyable read that did have me actually laughing out loud in some instances, but had a couple of glaring flaws that doesn’t allow me to rate it any higher than the 3.25 stars.

I am absolutely however going to be tuning in to the PBS 3-part series of Case Histories, as I’ve DVRd them…I missed the first one and I started to watch while on a work-trip in the US, (can’t watch it online in Canada! Boooooo) but quickly realized that the first one was mirroring very closely the story about Olivia….I was no where near finished the book, so I didn’t want to ruin the surprise!