Life After Life

Life After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WARNING: I shall try not to give anything away, but this is a difficult book to review without comments that could be spoilers for some readers.

While this isn’t a perfect book, the difference between 4 and 5 stars for me is that I would read (or listen) to this book again. Maybe even right away. It wasn’t what I expected – girl living life over and over until she gets it “right.” Who is to say what is right? She make choices, she is given a sense of deja vu in the next life and is able to make different choices when that situation comes up again. Sometimes it takes multiple lifetimes to break past a certain point – the Spanish flu epidemic for example. So I expected a final lifetime in which all the right things happen to break the cycle, sort of like the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day. Instead, it turns out to be more like the image of the snake eating its tail, the ouroboros, which is also a symbol of infinity. We end up right back where we started. Or do we?

Philosophically, there is a lot to ponder here. I happen to be someone who believes in reincarnation, and in the idea that maybe we do have a number of parallel lives where our “soul” experiences something like Ursula does – different versions of life according to what choices we make. If we die in one parallel, the lessons get absorbed in the others and life continues, with different threads breaking off and coming back together again over and over. In previous books by Ms. Atkinson, I have commented on her talent for taking multiple plot threads and weaving them together in the end (Case Histories), or taking an event and then spinning off plot threads (One Good Turn). So this is yet another exploration of the same kind of thing. And I think she does it brilliantly.

There is also her magical way with words, with painting scenes and characters. Even with so much built in repetition, I did not lose interest. Something is different each time. How will she avoid getting the flu this time, how will she avoid getting raped, how will she survive the London Blitz?

This is definitely a book to be savored, and a book to be reread.

Book description: On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. Ursula dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on toward its second cataclysmic world war. Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can, will she?

Audiobook narrated by Fenella Woolgar.

Started Early, Took My Dog

Started Early, Took My Dog (Jackson Brodie, #4)Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another solid entry in the Jackson Brodie series – humor, mystery, quirky characters, intertwining plot threads. I was pleased that we got to learn a bit more about Jackson in this book, who has returned to his Yorkshire roots. In the previous novel, the author started with an “event” involving all the major characters and then followed them to a sort of conclusion. This one, starts out with multiple characters and threads, not bringing them together until an “event” toward the end of the book. As always, the plot is impossible to describe. But who can go wrong with kids and dogs?

Description:
Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life as a retired police detective-a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. Both appear miserable and better off without each other-or so decides Tracy, in a snap decision that surprises herself as much as Kelly. Suddenly burdened with a small child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge.

Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, the beloved detective of novels such as Case Histories, is embarking on a different sort of rescue-that of an abused dog. Dog in tow, Jackson is about to learn, along with Tracy, that no good deed goes unpunished.

When Will There Be Good News?

When Will There Be Good News?When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These books keep getting better and better. The only reason I didn’t rate this a “5” was because I found the American narrator’s “fake” Scottish and Irish accents very annoying. (Audio book narrated by Ellen Archer.) Jackson Brodie gets on the wrong train and ends up in a horrific train crash near Edinburgh. Reggie is a wonderful character, and provides the glue that holds the various plot threads together. Louise Munroe is back, but both she and Jackson have made life choices that would seem to put any chance of romance even farther away. Ms. Atkinson writes wonderful character studies, and tackles dark themes with an undercurrent of humor.

The first three books have now been turned into a three-part television series starring Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie. The first episode just aired this past Sunday in the US on Masterpiece Mystery, and will continue on the following two Sundays. It was mostly faithful to the book, although some of the more humorous or extreme elements were removed: Binky Raine’s cat “Nigger” was never mentioned by name, Jackson’s house is not blown up, the nudist club is missing, Amelia does not attempt suicide… Nevertheless, the end result is perhaps a bit easier to follow. I look forward to the next two episodes.

Description:
On a hot and beautiful day in the English countryside, six-year-old Joanna Mason witnesses an appalling crime. Thirty years later, the man convicted of the crime is released from prison. Sixteen-year-old Reggie works as a nanny for a doctor devoted to her new young son. But Dr. Joanna Hunter has gone missing, and Reggie, no stranger to bad luck and worse, seems to be the only person who is worried. Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is also looking for a missing person, unaware that hurtling toward her is an old friend – Jackson Brodie – himself on a journey that becomes fatally interrupted. As lives and histories intersect, as past mistakes and current misfortunes collide, Jackson is caught up in the most personal, and dangerous, investigation of his life.

One Good Turn

One Good TurnOne Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book. It was much more tightly plotted than the first book, featuring multiple points of view with quirky, interesting characters, witty dialogue, and a satisfying conclusion. This time I did not figure out the ending before I got there. Ably narrated by Steven Crossley. The style reminds me very much of Alexander McCall Smith. Jackson still remains something of a mystery himself, although I feel I know him better than after the first book. I didn’t understand what he saw in Julia, so not surprised to see that relationship unraveling. Martin was a wonderful character. I also liked the detective inspector, Louise, and her troubled son Archie, and perhaps we shall see them again in the next book?

Description:  In One Good Turn Jackson returns, following his girlfriend, Julia the actress, to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. He manages to fall into all kinds of trouble, starting with witnessing a brutal attack by “Honda Man” on another man stuck in a traffic jam. Is this road rage or something truly sinister? Another witness is Martin Canning, better known as Alex Blake, the writer. Martin is a shy, withdrawn, timid sort who, in a moment of unlikely action, flings a satchel at the attacker and spins him around, away from his victim. Gloria Hatter, wife of Graham, a millionaire property developer who is about to have all his secrets uncovered, is standing in a nearby queue with a friend when the attack takes place. There is nastiness afoot, and everyone is involved. Nothing is coincidental.

Through a labyrinthine plot which is hard to follow because the points of view are constantly changing, the real story is played out, complete with Russians, false and mistaken identities, dead bodies, betrayals, and all manner of violent encounters. Jackson gets pulled in to the investigation by Louise Monroe, a police detective and mother of an errant 14-year-old. There might be yet another novel to follow which will take up the connection those two forge in this book. Or, Jackson might just go back to France and feed apples to the local livestock.

Case Histories

Case HistoriesCase Histories by Kate Atkinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not quite sure how to categorize this one. It’s not really a mystery/thriller nor is it a cozy mystery. While there was some suspense, it really wasn’t very compelling. So it is a sort of domestic/mystery/psychological/humorous story about a detective and three different cold cases that he is working on. The story isn’t so much about how he solves the cases, as it is about the people’s lives that are looking for resolution. I had figured out the who-dun-its well ahead of the resolution by the author. There were a few twists in the tale(s), the characters were quirky and interesting, but the way they were tied together seemed a bit forced and improbable. I enjoyed this and will read the next in the series, but I couldn’t quite give it a “4”. There is not really enough development of the main character, Jackson Brodie, but I am hoping he will be further developed in the next books, and that some of the other characters will be returning.

Description:

Case one: A little girl goes missing in the night.

Case two: A beautiful young office worker falls victim to a maniac’s apparently random attack.

Case three: A new mother finds herself trapped in a hell of her own making – with a very needy baby and a very demanding husband – until a fit of rage creates a grisly, bloody escape.

Thirty years after the first incident, as private investigator Jackson Brodie begins investigating all three cases, startling connections and discoveries emerge . . .