Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

My lack of “full” enjoyment for this book is probably a combination of factors. I’m more than well-versed in the idea of parallel universes and multiple versions of the same characters thanks to a lifetime of comic books and science fiction mixed with a little quantum theory here and there.  Add to that, I went through this book on the heels of a James Bond novel, which is himself a character with many different incarnations, so that helps to illustrate my mindset. So why read this one? I try to shake things up and read something “literary” every so often because I do enjoy variety. And nothing says variety quite like parallel dimensions. Imagine my disappointment when the potential of parallel universes in a novel like this is limited to the mundane and boring.

That’s not to say there isn’t something about this book to enjoy. As a character study, this is very well done (within its rather limited scope), until you get towards the end, at which point it disintegrates into nonsense because the author clearly hasn’t read enough comic books to help her solidify what this idea might be about. High concept is one thing, but if you can’t express your idea fully, regardless of medium, the idea comes across as rather pointless. This book is probably for those who aren’t immersed in the fantastical and rather gimmicky nature of whatever it is the author is attempting to explore.

On those lines, I feel like the author is trying to say that this potential for all of us to have multiple versions of ourselves exist, but there is only one version that is “perfect.” I find that to be extremely cynical and depressing. It’s pretentious. And if I’m misinterpreting that, then Ms. Atkinson has my apologies.

For me, the shining point of this book is the writing style. Atkinson’s prose is lyrical and enjoyable, but it just feels like a beautiful is singing the phone book (remember those?). The very nature of the story is that it could go quite literally anywhere, and it goes to a great many versions of nowhere instead. This is made worse by the fact that our multiverse protagonist shoots Hitler in the opening scene. After a promising start like that, you’d think there would be something incredible in there. I didn’t expect this to be an action novel, but I did expect far more variety from the concept. Instead, it’s shades of bleh. What a letdown.

2 stars

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