I finished Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. It tells the story of Ursula Todd, for whom time is sort of fluid. Every time she dies, the story is rewound and she gets a chance to do things differently. While she isn’t exactly aware that she has lived multiple lives, she does at some point become aware of memories of how things could have gone differently. It is definitely an interesting take on life, death and rebirth.
I found myself fascinated early on, interested to know more about Miss Todd and how many times she would meet her end before her death became final. How many drastically different lives she would lead before she found the one that best suited her. When she would realize that she’s an extraordinarily singular person and that most other people don’t get inexplicable feelings of intense dread that warn them of terrible danger.
Somewhere in the middle of the book, Ursula is palling around with Eva Braun and having occasional encounters with the Fuhrer himself. It kind of lost me there. I disconnected and didn’t pick up the book for a week or so. A shame, because then certain references were lost on me, certain people she met or saved, certain deaths she evaded only to visit the sites where they would have occurred, as they were happening to other people. I just wanted more of Ursula, Very Interesting Person, and not Ursula the Savior.
I perhaps got too caught up with the idea of her shadow-lives not actually happening, since every time she died she went back to a younger state. What I should have been looking at was the totality of it, because she retains some of the memories of those shadow-lives. For her, they happened, if perhaps in a strange, tangential-to-reality way. I gave the book three stars on Goodreads, though I sincerely feel I kind of ruined it for myself by putting it down for too long. I would still recommend it to someone, and recommend that they pay close attention in order to catch all the fleeting connections with people and places as Ursula walks through echoes of lives that never were. Except for her.
I finished We Need to Talk About Kevin earlier this week on the train ride home. I was moved to tears, making me glad the train was virtually empty.
Lionel Shriver has crafted a convincing tale of a woman ambivalent about becoming a mother. Though she is excited and views motherhood as just another country she has yet to visit, Eva Khatchadourian is plagued by doubts and does not immediately fall in love with her newborn son on sight.
The story is told through letters from Eva to her husband, who has seemingly left her. The tension in their couple rises as she recounts events from their son’s upbringing, his father unfailingly believing him to be a normal boy while Eva finds malice in many of his actions.
We learn early in the story that Kevin is in a juvenile detention facility after having killed several students and a couple adults at his school. As Eva revisits Kevin’s childhood, she wonders if he turned out the way he did because she did not love him as a mother should, or because he instinctively knew that she did not want a child. This, despite his being quite unlovable; I won’t list the spiteful things he does as a child, but they are many.
It was fascinating to be inside this woman’s mind, a judgmental creature living a shattered life after Thursday (as it is repeatedly called) changed everything for her and her family. I’m eager to see the film, and wonder how Tilda Swinton will give the audience a feel for her character’s thoughts since we won’t be reading her internal monologue. (Or letters to her husband, as it were.)
“I thought at the time that I couldn’t be horrified anymore, or wounded. I suppose that’s a common conceit, that you’ve already been so damaged that damage itself, in its totality, makes you safe.”
– Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin
Today marks my third morning of getting up an hour earlier than usual to sit in front of my computer and catch up on internet things. While I have been enjoying what I now come to think of as “quiet time”, I think I need to shift the focus a bit. Catching up on blogs and e-mails is something I can do on the train ride to work; writing on my smartphone is something I’m less at ease with. Sure, I’ll tap out an e-mail to a friend, but blog posts or creative endeavors always feel stunted by the smaller screen, as though I’ll curtail my thoughts to fit its size. I bought a cheap tablet to see if that might work better, but found that I still couldn’t type on it as quickly as on a real keyboard.
I think I should take advantage of my quiet time to get as much use out of the keyboard as possible, saving the reading for later. I have things I want to put down here, I have updates to make to my personal journal, and I feel I am falling behind. I suppose that is better than lamenting having nothing to say.
I have started reading We Need to Talk About Kevin, a first-person fiction written as a series of letters to the narrator’s ex-husband after their son has murdered nine people at his school and been put in a juvenile detention facility. I enjoy being in this woman’s mind so far. Reading this book, I realize that I enjoy stories like these where I can fall into the details of a person’s (fictional or no) life and thoughts, especially someone markedly different from myself. I’ve already gotten through a large chunk of it in the first day, and plan to keep up the pace. I’m also interested in seeing the film adaptation afterward. I love Tilda Swinton.
It is very refreshing to get away from the sweeping vistas and endless journeys of fantasy; the intrigues and power plays, betrayals and confessions. I live there so much of the time that I forget how nice it is to visit the real world. It makes me look at people in the train and métro differently, wondering what their stories are and how they would tell them. When I was younger I used to visit coffeeshops and sit for a while, watching people and inventing stories for them. Then I would figure that my story is, of course, nothing like their reality and start imagining all over again.