Tag Archives: life

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

life after life by Kate Atkinson book cover with snow fox and rabbitHave you ever wondered what would have happened if you’d done something differently? If you changed how a major event or minor detail in your life had played out, where your life might have taken you? And if you had the chance to live your life again what would you do differently?

In Life After Life, Kate Atkinson explores this concept. In February 1910, a baby girl is born to Sylvie Todd during a snowstorm. The midwife who has been called to attend the birth is stuck because of the snow. The doctor doesn’t arrive in time for the birth. The cord is wrapped around her neck and she dies before she can draw a breath.

In February 1910, a baby girl is born to Sylvie Todd during a snowstorm and lives to tell the tale. They call her Ursula, and she goes on to live life after life.

I’ve had Life After Life on my bookshelf for four years now but I’ve been wary of starting it. My friend gave me the book, but when I started having problems with my pregnancy warned me not to read it until I was in a better place. I was wary about what this meant and so I only really felt in the right place to approach it recently.

I found Life After Life to be an incredibly powerful book and technically brilliant. In Life After Life, Kate Atkinson tells us the story of Ursula Todd and her family multiple times, shifting small details of each telling to craft the impression of a different life but despite this repetition, the text doesn’t become repetitive. If anything, this repetition serves to increase the emotional impact as you see the near inevitability of the story playing out again and again. Nowhere was this more apparent for me than the section in which Ursula and her family are visited by the Spanish Flu which devastated so much of Europe at the end of World War Two. The scenes here weren’t obviously emotively written, but they were emotionally devastating. At the same time, this is where Atkinson carefully begins to draw out the idea that Ursula might be something more than the strange and thoughtful child that her family characterise her as, and we begin to see that her sense of déjà vu is related to tragedies in her previous attempts at living the same life.

“What if we had a chance to do it again and again,” Teddy said, “until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

This isn’t so much a novel about reincarnation as second chances, and doing things right. It asks us, what does it mean to live your life well? In some of Ursula’s lives that move on to adulthood she experiences truly harrowing experiences, rape, domestic violence, the loss of her child, but even in the lives where these things don’t occur, and in which she has satisfying relationships with her friends and family, it seems that for the purposes of the novel, she won’t have succeeded in living her life unless her brother Teddy survives the war and his true love Nancy also survives.

I found this focus on the character of Teddy very interesting, because for me it further complicated the mother child relationship that we see between Ursula and her mother Sylvie. There are hints throughout the novel that Sylvie is living her own version of Ursula’s life after life, Sylvie makes reference to “the black bat” of darkness which comes to symbolise Ursula’s death as having been vanquished in one of the first chapters when her baby has survived, experiences similar flashbacks to comforting memories of her own happy place when going through periods of stress, but compellingly has a pair of surgical scissors in her bedside drawer to save her own baby, repeating Ursula’s motto of “practice makes perfect” suggesting that she has indeed made a mental note that this is something that she will need from one of her previous lives. Both Sylvie and Ursula single Teddy out as being special as being the one they will do anything for. Initially I thought that this meant that Teddy was the child of Sylvie’s affair, but in the same life, Ursula notes that Ted had inherited Hugh’s smile.

Part of me wonders whether there is meant to be some kind of deeper resonance between their characters that needs to be in alignment in order for a good life to be lived. In the good life which sees Sylvie save Ursula and Teddy then survive the war, their character’s best lives are lived in alignment with their right actions combining to ensure the positive action. In one of the most distressing versions of Ursula’s life, when Ursula comes to see herself as deficient and broken, Sylvie’s attitude reflects this break and this is the time that we see her character at her worst as she rejects her daughter and Ursula notes that she used to love her, and now she didn’t. This is also the story in which Ursula sees Sylvie with another man, so we can suspect that some of this is projected self-loathing. It’s clear that while Sylvie repeatedly insists that there is no higher calling for a woman than being a wife and mother, there are times at which she resents this role and seems to envy Izzie’s freedom. In one of Ursula’s better lives, it is implied that her daughter rejects this role and lives a fulfilling life without becoming a wife or mother.

In the end, as I read it, Ursula’s successful life, the one in which Teddy survives and she gets to continue her life with him, isn’t the one in which she kills Hitler. It’s interesting to see that the follow up to Life After Life, A God in Ruins will focus on Teddy’s life after the events of Life After Life, and I’ll add this to my dangerously tall TBR pile to see whether Kate Atkinson offers up any answers to the questions that Life After Life has left me with.

 

 

 

 

Quotes about love from young adult fiction

Happy Valentine’s Day Kiddiewinks! A little while ago I got to thinking about nostalgia, and why it is the books and songs that we like as teenagers seem to stick in our minds more than anything we read or hear before or afterwards. I read an article which claimed that it was something to do with the teenage brain not being fully developed which is why teenagers are also inclined to take more risks or something… I preferred to think that my teenage self was free from cynicism and charmingly convinced of my own immortality, but never mind…

Whatever the reason, you can’t deny that books aimed at young adults (and I include crossover books here) have some great quotes about love, the nature of love and what it feels like to be in love and since this Valentine’s I have mostly decided not to be a grumpy cynic, I thought I would share my ten favourite with you now:

All images are adapted from original artworks as indicated in the image caption under the terms of the creative commons license. Please credit the original artist (and The Book and Biscuit) if you would like to share or adapt these images.

A Guide to Pretending to Read Literary Classics

You know how every so often you come across an article that really annoys you? So it was when I came across Huffington Post’s A Guide to Pretending to Read Literary Classics. No, it wasn’t just the awkward grammatical tense of the title, it was the principle of the thing.

I hate it when people pretend to have read books. It’s invariably because they think it will impress someone, but actually if you are having an involved conversation you can always tell. If you’re doing it to fit in with friends, it’s a little sad. If you’re doing it in an interview you just end up looking odd. My friend was having an interview to read English Lit at an Oxbridge university a few years back and a book came up in conversation that they hadn’t read it, so they tried to bluff that they had. They didn’t get the place.

If you’re the kind of person who thinks reading the classics gives you a kind of prestige (or that the books that you read are too, and I quote, “pulpy”) go to the library, take out a book and read it. Then you’ll be able to talk about it. Otherwise, and I recommend this to anyone who is truly embarrassed by the things that they enjoy, go to the library and have a rummage in the self-help section for a book on self-acceptance.

Life is too short to people please with your reading material once you’ve left school.

Literary Pumpkins- Bookish Inspiration for Halloween

When my brother send me a picture of this pumpkin based on the one ring in Lord of The Rings, he started something of an obsession…. my heart melted a bit. All I knew was that I loved it, I wanted it, I neeeds it…. my precioussss pumpkin…

LOTR pumpkin with inscription from the one ring

I realised I needed to seek more bookish pumpkin fun and came across this brilliant post from A Book Lover’s Diary of 20 Pumpkin Carvings Inspired By Books. These have been made by grandmasters. They are not for the likes of me to try carving at home. I’ll have to cheat something like these cute (but under carved) pumpkins inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven from Country Living and Etsy

What are the best literary pumpkins you’ve come across?

Quote me on that…Shakespeare and Destiny

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Image created using background by Scott Wylie

An inspirational quote to kick the working week off, but I’m never entirely sure whether I actually believe it. Regardless of whether you believe in free will or determinism (or compatiblism, I’ve done my reading) I don’t think anyone can truly believe that their destiny is entirely theirs to decide.

Still, it’s a nice thought and sounds good on a Monday.

Fairytale Themed Presents

The Crimson Fairy Book

The Crimson Fairy Book

Recently, instead of catching up on the news while I wait for the bus, I’ve been reminding myself how much I love reading classic fairy tales by reading the stories of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm as eBooks on my phone. The stories are still great, but the lack the magic of settling down by the fire with a beautifully illustrated book. In honour of Christmas Magic, I thought I would share my top fairytale inspired Christmas presents. I hope you find them helpful when shopping for gifts for fairytale lovers.

 

 

 

The Yellow Fairy Book

No list of gifts for lovers of fairy stories would be complete without the Folio Society Fairy Books. Colourful, luxurious and beautifully illustrated with introductions from key names in folklore studies, I think they would make the perfect Christmas present. I’m tempted to start a collection as well, but where to start? They’re all so beautiful. The Folio Fairy Books are quite expensive but have real heirloom potential.

 

 

 

This Once Upon A Time storybook necklaceOnce Upon A Time Necklace, is made from solid silver, and can be customized with a personal message especially for your fairytale fan. It also comes in a really cute little gift box, which is a bonus if you’re no good at wrapping presents. I have this necklace and people always ask about it, especially children who want to open it and read the story inside (it doesn’t open sadly).

 

 

 

I used to have a copy of The Frog Price that was decorated with the most amazing papercut illustrations, I think it might actually still be at my father’s house so I’ll need to dig it out when I’m next back. These papercut illustrations of Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood remind me of that book, and I love the splash of red in Little Red Riding Hood’s coat along with the important life advice, it seems a more Brothers Grimm phrase than the slightly saccharine one that accompanies Cinderella…
original_red-riding-hoods-folly-signed-papercut-printoriginal_cinderella-s-dream-signed-papercut-print
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iconI love Heather Alstead’s Fairy Tale range at Not On The Highstreet, there are so many beautifully designed products, but these storytelling bookends, happily ever after bookmark and dragon slaying mug have to be my favourites.Happily Ever After Bookmarkicon
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Fairytale Bookends

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Passed from foster home to foster home her entire life, eighteen year old Victoria finds it difficult to connect with people. As a coping mechanism, she uses the Victorian language of flowers to tell people how she really feels about them while keeping them at a distance. But one day she meets a young man who speaks her secret language, forcing her to confront a past she is keen to forget.

As Victoria makes bouquets that fix her clients lives and gain her a cult following, she struggles with feelings of inadequacy, a legacy of the repeated rejection she experienced as a small child. In Victoria, Diffenbaugh has created a heroine who is vulnerable without being Dickensian, so though the novel highlights the plight of children growing up in care and young adults leaving the system, it never feels excessively like a sermon. Many of the minor characters are similarly engaging and well outlined, though at times, customers in the shop and other cast members felt a little like devices for advancing the plot.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh reads like a hybrid of White Oleander and Like Water for Chocolate- A young woman shaped by her life in the system, and a young woman who has grown up without expresses her feelings by making things which physically or mentally affect others. This isn’t to say that this is derivative, I don’t think it is, but if you liked either of these, you may well enjoy reading this title.

This is a nice gentle read, and the story is pretty engaging. It also comes with a handy dictionary of flower meanings at the back of the book, so if you want to fill your house or garden with secret messages, it’s a handy starting point.

You might be interested to know that Vanessa Diffenbaugh has founded The Camellia Network to support young people aging out of foster care. The meaning of camellia in the language of flowers? My destiny is in your hands.

Read More, Spend Less, Save the World

Keep your piggy fed

Cash strapped? I know I am at the moment, even more so since I started trying to scrabble together each and every spare penny for a deposit for a house. Inspired by this I decided to put together some handy hints on ways to get the books you want to read at a price you can afford. On the bright side all of these tips are environmentally friendly, because you are reusing rather than demanding the print of extra books.

1) Libraries

Making use of your public library or school library is probably the easiest way to get hold of the best sellers for free. Sign up for a library card and you can rent a selection of books for weeks at a time, just make sure that you renew or return by the due date to avoid fines. Libraries have the added advantage of having a great sense of community spirit, and if you make friends with your librarian they will get to know your tastes in literature and be able to tell you when they have some great books in that you are likely to enjoy. I’ve been introduced to some great books and authors this way, including the fabulous Gatty’s Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland.

2) Set Up a Swap Table

At work we have a swap table in the lobby where you can take your books when you’ve finished reading them and pick up a new book in exchange. This doesn’t even need to be limited to books. Our table is fairly book dominated because of the nature of the publishing industry, but I’ve also seen CDs, DVDs, cake and in the summer a glut of allotment fruit and vegetables. All the benefits of swapping with a friend of family member but with much greater variety.

3) Charity Shops

As well as clothes that I’ve realised just don’t suit me, I take books that I’ve read to my local charity shop. I have regular clear outs, and not only do I get the exercise benefits of lugging along some pretty weighty tomes on the way there, but I invariably end up finding something I haven’t read but want to. On my last charity shop book buying spree I ended up carting home eleven books for six pounds. Now that is amazing value.

4) Green Metropolis

If you prefer to be able to select the book you want rather than have fate choose the book for you, greenmetropolis.com is a great site to allow you to boost your financial wellbeing at the same time as your eco credentials. There is a flat fee of £3.75 for each book, and 5p from each sale is donated to the Woodland Trust. Not only does the site sell cheap books with great green clout, but you can sell the books back when you’re done and receive a fee for £3 per book. You’ll have to pay for postage out of this, but can still turn a profit when recycling packaging and sending via second class post.

5) Book Mooch

Or if anonymous swapping is more your thing (I don’t know who left the Mills and Boon and Jackie Collins books on the swap table, I’d die if anyone thought it was me…) then swap online via bookmooch.co.uk . Though you do have to be patient while you wait for the book you want to appear, there is an immense sense of satisfaction in hunting down that little gem. Especially good for classics such as The Great Gatsby or set study texts.

What are your money saving reading tips?

Crying on the Aeroplane

I won’t be very active on the blog for a few days because I’m in the USA for work- my first time here and I’m loving it. I had plenty of time to read on the flight out, especially as I didn’t manage to sleep and arrived on the verge of a migraine and ready to have a real temper tantrum!

I was sat in between two people on the flight out, a very friendly guy and a woman who avoided eye contact for ten hours and ten minutes. This seemed a little unfair at first, but after I started reading may have been justified. I picked up a copy of Sarah Winman’s When God Was a Rabbit and spent the early part of the book laughing, and the latter part- you’ve guessed it- sobbing and rubbing my face into my sleeve. Oh and occasionally doing both at the same time.

I will post my review when arrive home, then you can read the book and let me know whether my emotional outbursts were perfectly understandable or the work of a mad woman!