I had a very good run this year with the Triple Dog Dare, which is the first challenge I’ve ever done. The TDD is to read only books you already own during the first three months of the year; I read 11. My dare spilled over into April as I was reading three books: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson, and Stet by Diana Athill. I’ve not finished Stet, but the first two are wrapped up. They were complimentary books, both with English settings during or between the two World Wars.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Lots was written last year about this novel, but the basic plot is this: Ursula Todd is born and dies over and over in the novel as she lives through the early part of the 20th century, including the two World Wars. We see her whole existence from these overlapping and slightly shifting lives. This premise seems like it could be formulaic or repetitive, but it’s handled much more creatively. The book reminded me of a photographic collage of one setting made up of a hundred small photographs shot at slightly different angles, times of day, light, etc.–like a David Hockney photo collage.
In some lives, Ursula has awareness, even vague, of her reincarnations. In one life, she parts ways with a childhood friend who is later found dead and abused. In another, she has a strange feeling that makes her grab that same friend’s hand and walk her home. She is sometimes described by others as having an uncanny or eerie second sense. In some lives she is meek, and in others, she is assertive and strong. She dies many times in the London blitz during WWII. In one life she has a child, but more often she is childless and single.
I enjoyed this book so much more than I thought I would, though I did not find it quite as profound as some other bloggers did. This book, along with HHhH and Miss Buncle’s Book got me in an early 20th century, betwixt-the-wars state of mind. I want to read more novels set in the period. And drink cups and cups of tea. And have a grandchild named Ursula, so I can call her Little Bear.
A charming and lighthearted story, set between the two World Wars in a small English village. Miss Buncle appears a dull, homely spinster, made more so by her poverty. She also has deceptively keen observation skills. To make ends meet, she decides to write a book about her village, which to her delight and amazement, gets published after the very first inquiry. Her book, published under the pen name John Smith, creates an uproar in her small community as it too clearly describes and sometimes skewers its citizens. Miss Buncle comes off as none-too-savvy; she has simply written what she sees. To most of her village members, Miss Buncle’s book is libelous. To the wider public, it’s high satire. In other words, it’s a smashing success.
D.E. Stevenson wrote a couple of sequels to this book: Miss Buncle Married, and the Two Mrs. Abbotts. I look forward to reading them too. With tea and perhaps a biscuit or two.
Life After Life
Copyright 2013 by Kate Costello, Ltd.
First United States Edition
Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown and Company
Miss Buncle’s Book
Copyright 2012 by the Estate of D. E. Stevenson
Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.