Our most recent Joy of Reading Book Club pick was Life After Life.
Life After Life is based around a simple premise, one that we’ve all probably thought about from time to time: What if I could go back and do it differently? What if I could do it again until I got it right?
The story follows the life of Ursula Todd, a Londoner, born in 1910. It takes Ursula a while to get the whole “life” thing down – she starts over more than once before hitting her teen years, and then a few more times throughout her adult years. And while I understand that going back to the beginning is a great way to establish character, family dynamic, and to set up the idea that this character’s life is restarting, with little bits of trace memory from the last time around, I have to admit, the repetition got to me in the first 100 pages or so. (It’s never a good sign when you’re thinking ‘come on, not again’.) But when the author stopped going back to 1910 every time Ursula’s life ended, and I was able to start connecting with the adolescent or adult Ursula, the book really started to pay off (and it became ‘Come on! Not again!).
Once the scene was set, the author’s telling of Ursula’s story(ies) throughout both WWI and WWII managed to be both touching and heart breaking at the same time.
Filled with imaginative takes on historical events (having Ursula befriend Eva Braun for example), endearing characters (Teddy!), tough-to-love characters (Sylvia …) and just enough humour to off-set the more serious events (young Ursula trying to save the maid from the Spanish flu was a truly enjoyable running gag), I found Life After Life to be a unique, interesting, and worth-while read.
My only real criticism? The fox and the rabbit on the book cover. While they are elements that weave throughout the book, they would not have been my first choice for the cover art.
Would I recommend it to a friend? Yes – and in fact I have, but with the caveat that you need to be patient with the book. It picks up, I promise, and when it does it’s well worth the wait!