For the small number of you that follow my blog posts you may have noticed I don’t write much written by British writers. I will when there’s something that piques my interest but I’ve never really thought about it until now . Claire North is a personal favourite, Terry Pratchett’s work I’m a big fan of and I do like Douglas Adams and Virginia Woolf. The main issue I’ve had with a particular number of British literature which can sometimes put me off is the obsession with class. You see it in Agatha Christine’s Poirot series, Brideshead Revisited as well as something like the Ragged-Trousered Philatropists.
Although class divisions are evident in literature round the world not just in the UK, the British have almost made it a trope of British Literature with its mere existence. I praise any work of fiction from Britain that doesn’t have it as a key thing in their prose. However for some writers (Jane Austen for example) there are some literature where there is a bigger picture and also there are other things to consider on different levels of what’s being written. Which leads us to Life After Life.
Life After Life is a book about Ursula a woman from a wealthy middle class family who can remember previous incarnations of her life (always the same life in the same time periods) which also includes major parts of British and European history. This book looks at recurring echoes and the idea of circularity on a philosophical context.
We read about Ursula reliving her life, remembering what happened in a previous incarnation and changing things to have her life different based on what she remembers. The timeline covers mostly the events around the two world wars in the twentieth century. It’s like playing a video game and being able to reset your progress and going down a different route.
There is a look at some philosophical concepts, specifically ‘amor fati’ by Nietzsche. Pindar is also quoted ‘Become such as you are, having learned what it is’. This probably best explains how Ursula approaches her lives. Ursula does come across some misfortune in her lives and does what she can to avoid or change them, sometimes on multiple attempts as we would see with the Spanish flu. We also read about Ursula’s friends and family. Auntie Isobel was a particular favourite.
In some respects as awful as it sounds, there’s relief when Ursula dies and can relive her life a certain moments because she goes through so much pain. Ursula manages to dictate her fate based on awareness of other lives or different realities. Ursula also considers doing what a lot of people who are aware of their futures (along with time travellers) would want to do and that is killing a certain German dictator before he commits acts of unspeakable evil.
I think this book is longer than it should be. There are some sections I felt just dragged and wished they were shorter, as already stated there was a certain section I wish did not go on as it did because I was feeling bad for Ursula. It definitely would have worked better as a novella. It also does something that I loathe seeing in books and that’s when it quotes from non-English writers in their native tongue and there’s no translation. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this and I think it is pretentious to a certain degree when I see it done, but this is a tiny irritant that I have.
Overall there is a lot to take from this and think about. This is a good story and I liked the ideas and thoughts along with how it sat with the middle part of the twentieth century but in many ways this had potential to be something better. For something similar I would recommend The Many Lives of Harry August by Claire North. Give Life After Life. It’s good but I don’t think it’s for everyone.