Headline June18, 2014


THIS brilliant novel,  -envisions life as a series of do-overs....!?  Once and again, then, as you read on:

IN the opening pages of Kate Atkinson's  Life After Life,  an English woman named Ursula Todd shoots Adolf Hitler in the heart as he enjoys a slice of  Kirschitorte.

The year is 1930,  so this means Hitler won't be named Chancellor   -won't go on to ''lay waste to the world.'' 

His cronies kill Ursula the moment she fires, but she knows that the suffering her deed prevents is well worth the cost. The assassination is also an act of vengeance:

In previous lives,  Ursula has died in the blitz, lost a brother to an ill-fated Royal Air Force mission and starved at Munich apartment during the brutal final days of World War II. Ursula doesn't have a score to settle with der Fuhrer   -she has several.

She also has a peculiar talent. After Ursula dies,  she lives her life again,  and again, and so on,  always reincarnated as the sharp witted girl born on February 1910. Though the circumstances of her life are rarely identical-

They all contain the same signal moments and people   - a conceit that could, in the hands of a lesser writer, revolve into a redundant grind.

But Atkinson has a knack of puzzle making. In Case Histories,  the first of her phenomenally successful literary detective novels, three seemingly unrelated crimes find a dizzy convergence.

Stephen King has said he was moved to  ''read it once for pleasure and then again just to see how it was done. ''Case Histories''  became a BBC series of the same name. In Life After Life,  Atkinson renders each of Ursula's-

Many existences from a slightly different vantage point, creating a series of narrative fragments that cohere into breathtaking whole.

The first time Ursula is born    -''she is with no warning, outside the inside''   -she's strangled by her umbilical chord. (''Darkness Fell.'')  Next, she survives babyhood only to tumble from a second window as a toddler.(''Darkness Fell.'')

Another death arrives when the housemaid returns from a visit to London with influenza. (''Darkness, and so on.'') 

In one wretched iteration, Ursula is raped and impregnated at the age of 16; the assault cleaves a chasm of shame in her and leads her to a terrible fate.

But Ursula's sorry ends are mitigated by the mordant pleasures of watching her adapt. In subsequent lives, a gut feeling keeps her away from a high window, instinct makes her stop the maid from visiting London-

And an obscure conviction tells her to deliver a pre-emptive punch to the jaw of her would-be rapist.   

It's late in the novel when a character poses a question that seems at the heart of  Life After Life  :   ''What if we had a chance to do it again and again..........until we finally did get it right?''

What qualifies as right is another central question. When Ursula becomes fully conscious  of the odd parameters of her existence, her first order of business is immediately clear:

Plan Hitler's assassination and derail the wartime devastation that's marked each of her lives. ''Her heart swelled with the high holiness of it  all,'' Atkinson writes.

''Imminence was all around. She was both warrior and shining spear..................There would be no mistakes this time.''

The modern reader , marinated in the ubiquitous language of self-help, may believe at first that each life gives Ursula a better shot at happiness   -closer to the love of a good man, closer to the joys of motherhood, closer to a decent bomb shelter.

But by the final chapters, it's clear that Ursula is gaining on something much bigger than any of her lives: a true calling.

Watching that pursuit is frequently heartbreaking and entirely thrilling..........and it won't spoil the ending to say that she never does get it entirely right; even the existence in which she kills Hitler-

Is plagued ample sorrow, struggle and regret.

Such is life     -which, as they say, goes on.

With respectful dedication to all the writers -gifted and talented,  of the world. See Ya all on !WOW!   -the World Students Society Computers-Internet-Wireless:

''' No Barriers To Entry Ever '''

Good night and God bless!

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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