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.

 

 

 

 

Boyfriend’s First Ever Cake

Victoria Sponge with a twistThis weekend, at the age of 28, my boyfriend made his first ever cake for Mothers’ Day. He used this easy Classic Victoria Sponge recipe, but switched the butter cream filling for a cream cheese icing on my recommendation as butter cream can be a little sickly and his mother doesn’t have a very sweet tooth.

To make a cream cheese icing whisk together 300g of Philadelphia with 125ml of double cream, then whisk in 150g icing sugar. Obviously it’s much easier to make this simple twist on a Victoria Sponge with an electric whisk. He made this without any physical help from me, clearly his obsessive tendencies have paid off.

Victoria Sponge

Sometimes people do nice things…

bookcase parrotI bought the parrot in this picture from Etsy in October, and the postman tried to deliver him when I was in hospital having my operation. My boyfriend wasn’t allowed to collect him from the post office and by the time I was out of hospital and able to get to the post office, he’d been send back to the seller Susanna. Susanna got in touch with me to tell me he’d come back to her, and when she heard about my operation she told me that she hoped I was feeling better and sent him back to me, so he is now making me happy by brightening up my bookshelf.

I just thought I would share how nice Susanna (who runs this website according to her Etsy profile) had been to me to remind everyone that sometimes people do really nice things.

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.

New Year Reading Resolutions (you’ve probably broken already…)

Have you made a new year’s resolution? I haven’t yet, partly because I think January is a terrible time to make any kind of life change (way too dark and gloomy) and partly because, as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been a little bit distracted. But year after year, I see the same reading resolutions cropping up, and I’m pretty sure that they’re never kept.

Here are 5 popular reading resolutions I’ve seen and why, if you’re anything like me, I think they will fail:

Resolution 1- I will read 52 books this year.

A book a week. Perfectly achieveable… if you already read at around that rate and don’t expect to have, you know, life get in the way of your plans if you don’t. You get sick, have a busy week at school or work and the next thing you know you’re behind on your schedule and will start panicking. I hate it when people set numerical reading targets, because for me, reading is meant to be enjoyable, and a pleasurable activity can’t really be quantified in terms of the number of pleasurable items consumed. For example, you might like eating chocolate, but eat too many bars and you’re going to get sick. This doesn’t have to be a book a week either, it’s any arbitrary number that you use as a stick to beat yourself. Just read at your own pace, and love the books you do manage to read.

Resolution 2- I will read War and Peace

Ah, so you’re going to read that fictional classic that you’ve always felt that you should read but didn’t quite get around to despite that fact that you’ve been promising yourself that you will for the past seven years? It’s all well and good, but are you promising yourself that for the right reasons? My feeling is if the book had really called to you, you would have read it already. If you feel you should read a book, you’re probably doing it because it symbolises something to you, an intellectual achievement, a chance to fit in… not necessarily the right reasons to beat yourself around the head with a 1,440 page dusty tome. If you love classics, fine, but if you actually love dodgy sci-fi with giant spaceworms and bigger plot holes? Do yourself a favour and stick to what you love.

Resolution 3- I will read “the greats”

Ever fancied reading the unabridged great books? I tried this when I was in sixth form and thought I should educate myself before going to university. I started with Marx’s Das Kapital because I was studying Nineteen Eighty-Four at the time, and I didn’t get much further than that. The thing is, many of these great political/philosophical works are pretty esoteric or are deeply rooted in their time, with obscure references to people, works and ideas which you may not have heard of or which are very much of their time. Do yourself a favour and if you are going to try this, either go abridged or get a good academic guide which is going to offer you some context.

Resolution 4- I will share my favourite books with my partner…

Ever heard the expression that you can take a horse to water but can’t make it drink? Well in my house, the horse only drinks sports drinks… if you follow the analogy. Best of luck in your own house though!

 

 

What New Year’s resolutions have you seen or made that have struck you as being overly ambitious?

A New Year Arrival

Happy New Year! You’ll notice that I’m a little bit late wishing you that, but my family has had busy start to this year as my little sister gave birth to my lovely niece Amelie on January 2nd after a long, traumatic labour. I feel so privileged to have been there when the little lady was born and to witness my sister’s patience and strength.

Everyone is very excited, especially her great-grandmother who has been planning a reading scheme during the pregnancy and has now ordered enough classic children’s books to last until just after her eighth birthday at a conservative estimate (seriously, she’s a former primary school teacher and inspired my love of stories).

If anyone can recommend more recent must have children’s books (The Gruffalo is already a favourite in our family, but there must be lots of others) let me know and I will pass along the suggestions.

From Christmas Jumper to Reading Gloves

Hello, this evening you find me feeling very proud of myself having had a very productive evening yesterday.  I wasn’t able to wear my Christmas jumper for the Save the Children Day at work as it had shrunk in the wash (don’t worry I still donated) and I was quite annoyed about this because a) everyone’s Christmas jumpers looked amazing and b) I actually really loved mine. So I decided to “upcycle” it. While I hate the word upcycle (it should be sent to the same hell as staycation) I like the practice and had to show off my reading gloves and Christmassy cushion. The two together can’t have taken more than an hour and a half as I did them while watching Homeland.

 

The Gloves

upcycled fingerless gloves mittensSuper easy, you could make these as a no sew project and mine involved very minimal sewing. I’m especially pleased with these as I get tendonitis from excessive typing in cold conditions (or as I like to put it, working too hard…), so they will be perfect for winter blogging. All you need to do is cut the gloves to the required length, use some bonding tape to prevent the hems fraying and cut a thumb hole to fit the recipient and you have some pretty snazzy gloves. I embellished mine with some vintage snowflake buttons that my grandmother gave me and because my jumper wasn’t pure wool, used some stitching to prevent the thumb hole fraying. If your jumper is made from 100% you can wash it on a really hot wash to felt it and it won’t fray.

 

The Cushion

upcycled sweater cushionEasier than pie, I just turned the jumper inside out and sewed the waist band closed before turning the right side around, popping the cushion pad inside, trimming it to the right size and closing up with a tight whip stitch in a matching thread colour to prevent it fraying. I think it looks very Christmassy and am glad that my favourite Christmas jumper is getting a second life.