Monday, April 28, 2014

Life After Life (And the Movie About Time)

Okay. This is like the hardest review EVER. I hate reviewing things that I really really REALLY love. First, there's the daunting task of trying to relay what it is exactly that made something so exquisitely perfect. Then there's the complete terror that someone will read and/or watch something based on my reviews, and then she'll either not get why I loved it so much or else she'll just straight up hate it.

It's nerve wracking!!!

I read Life After Life while we were on holiday in Amsterdam, where we rented About Time one night as well. So they will both be forever intwined in my mind, but they also had a LOT of similarities.

Let's do the book first because I can probably do this one without crying.  Okay, probably not.

From the back of the book: What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.
What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?
Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life's bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

To be fair, I didn't read that until I actually picked it up from the library. I'd first heard of the book in EW when they did their Best of 2013 issue. It made best book from one writer, but to be honest, it didn't pique my interest AT ALL. They also pick Husband's Secret as one of the top ten, and that book was just lame. Here's what the EW reviewer says: Life After Life begins, inauspiciously enough, on a dark and stormy night. But it ends (and begins, and ends, and begins again) as an utter original: a book so dazzlingly inventive and deeply human that it's hard not to stop every few chapters to give Kate Atkinson a private standing ovation. Yes, she kills off her protagonist, Ursula Todd, almost immediately, letting the ''black bat'' of death descend before she even takes her first breath. And then Atkinson resurrects her — bringing Ursula, an otherwise ordinary British girl living an ordinary life in the first half of the 20th century, back to that same snowy night to be reborn over and over. Is she immortal? Do her reincarnations serve a higher purpose? Is she really trying to kill Hitler? It feels wrong to call Life magical realism, and it's nowhere near science fiction; somehow, the book comes off as both brilliant postmodern sleight of hand and old-fashioned storytelling in the best, most enveloping sense. It may actually make you grateful you'll only live once — and yet that didn't stop me from reading it twice. —Leah Greenblatt

But again, I didn't see any of this until AFTER I read it. I just vaguely remembered seeing the American cover (you know, with the roses) in the Best Of issue and then it just kept coming up over and over and OVER again, usually on my Goodreads lists. For one last cut and paste, here's the Goodreads synopsis: On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she 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 any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.f
Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.
Should I try to formulate an actual review? Ugh. Here goes. First, you need to know that I am obsessed with all things Blitz related. It started forever ago when I first read Narnia, and it's multiplied by infinity since moving here. Obviously. I just can't wrap my mind around the fact that people bombed a CITY. Not only a city filled with innocent people who weren't actually FIGHTING IN THE WAR, but a gorgeous city full of history and irreplaceable architecture!!! Nick rolls his eyes whenever I get riled up about it (i.e. whenever we watch Nanny McPhee Returns, or go into the city, or it was especially bad during Call the Midwife when they had that unexploded bomb at Christmas) and he just says "it's war. No one is following the rules" but that's just bullshit. BULLSHIT. It shouldn't be allowed!!!

So I had no idea how much of this book would be about the Blitz, and maybe for other readers, it won't take up that much of their minds, but for me, this book was basically about the Blitz, all the Blitz, and nothing but the Blitz.

My favorite life (obviously) was when she was part of the rescue and recovery team.  I've just spent twenty minutes on Google and I can't find it, and of course I've already turned my book back in at the library, but the lady that she's working with in these chapters is my favorite character of the book. And she obviously left a huge impression on me since I can't even remember her name. Ugh.

So. Aside from the AMAZING and perfectly harrowing descriptions of the Blitz, here's some take home points that stuck with me while I was reading.

1. Lots of life is just dumb luck. Being in the right place at the right time. A lot of times, she drowned at the beach when she was like three.  But sometimes, this random dude looked up from the painting he was trying to do and saved her. It had nothing to do with how she lived her life (other than maybe not going into the water, but she tried that and her sister still got her to go in, and then at the end the poor cousin drowned, so I'm calling it nothing to do with her) it only matter how OTHER people were living their lives. And that either sucks or rocks, depending on how you look at it.

2. But lots of life IS what you make of things. Now I'm one of the (apparently very small percentage of) people who thinks Ursula didn't REALLY know she was living over and over. At the VERY end (the Hitler assassination life) she seems to get it, but all her other lives, I got the distinct impression that she knew SOMETHING was up, but not what. So she had this horrible feeling that she had to stop Bridget (was that her name?) from going to London and getting Spanish Flu, but she didn't know WHY. So she took matters into her own hands, and made her life take the shape she wanted. Same with the lives after she was raped, she couldn't just wait for dumb luck- she shaped it herself. Which is the inverse of my first point and either sucks or rocks, depending on how you look at it.

As a side note, I found the book VERY slow going until she FINALLY got around the Flu- after that, I literally didn't put it down till I was done.

3. The rape life made me think of that part of Perks where the teacher says "we get the love we think we deserve." And that makes me SO grateful to being living in this day and age. I mean, life is pretty fucked up, but at least we have some better grasps on psychology. If I were raped in this day and age, I think I wouldn't necessarily blame myself. I'd like to think my mother wouldn't disown me. I'd like to think I wouldn't stay in an abusive relationship as atonement for what I'd done- for what had BEEN DONE to me. That life was particularly hard to read (duh) but I think she (obviously) learned a lot and grew from that experience. And I just love being reminded of Perks.

4. What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? That's like, the blurb for the book, and it's something her brother mentions to her sort of in passing. And obviously, it's just about forefront in your mind the entire time you're reading. But what does it REALLY mean? How do you know if you've finally got it right? More than anything, this book made me see how vast the web between us is. Ursula (and by extension, me, the reader) is just an ordinary run of the mill gal- and yet she (and each and every one of us) affects so many people in so many ways.  How can there be a 'right'?

5. How did the shrink's son Guy disappear? In some of her lives he's there (there's a pic of him in his office?) and sometimes not? Does that affect the way the shrink deals with his patients? Didn't Guy have PTSD from WWI? I might be reaching here, it was just sort of in the back on my mind when I read that his picture was gone, but now I think about it ALL THE TIME. How come in some of her lives, things are SO different for other people? People that she's not interacted with, so it should be the same? How come no matter what, her sister ends up married to the same dude? No matter what Ursula does, Pamela lives the exact same life? That doesn't seem right!!

6. Which leads me to: surely Ursula isn't the ONLY one living life after life. When I read near the end, where Sylvie delivers before the doc gets there again (which has always led to Ursula's death) and Bridget is all freaking out and Sylvie just sort of rolls her eyes and grabs the scissors and snip snip saves the baby? I just assumed it was a given that Sylvie was living life after life as well. It wasn't until I googled it and came up with NOTHING that it dawned on me that other readers weren't jumping to that conclusion. AT ALL. Which bothers me, but not too much. I don't mind having my own take on things.

7. And speaking of Sylvie, I got the distinct impression that we were supposed to hate her, but I just couldn't do it. I actually sort of even LIKED her. I can forgive a woman a multitude of sins if she loves her children. (Cough, Cersei, cough) I thought it was sweet how she breastfed even though (apparently?) it was cooler to get a wet nurse. I know she was distant and aloof and sort of a not-very-paying-attention-mother (cough Jennifer cough) but what can I say, I liked her.

Except, OBVIOUSLY, the Rape Life version. What the fuck Sylvie. How could she be so awful to Ursula?!?! Was it just the times? Were those her true colors? The only good thing about seeing what a horrible bitch Sylvie is in the Rape Life was seeing how deep Hugh's love for Ursula goes. It's there in all the other lives, but I REALLY noticed it in Rape Life.

And for my final point, I'd recommend that you read a flesh and blood copy of this, not a kindle version. I had to go back to the table of contents a lot, and I had to frequently flip back to the beginning of whatever chapter I was on to remember when/how old Ursula was.

I gave this five stars. I would have given it more. This was without a doubt a Drop Everything and Read. A Stayed Up all Night to Finish. How else does Meredith rate her books? I can't remember. But whatever they are, this is a winner. Winner winner. This was AS GOOD as the Dovekeepers, if that shows you how serious I am.

Phew.

On to the movie?

Here's the trailer.

Obviously, it looks a little cheesy and dumb.

But it's NOT. It's so good!!!

The time travel gimmick is like BARELY a part of the movie. Seriously, I would NOT lie to you. In fact, I sort of hate time travel, it makes my head hurt. And I mega hated Time Traveler's Wife, I thought it was just so stupid and he was just such a dick.

But this MOVIE ya'll. It's one of the best I've seen. It's a movie about life. Just life. Nothing big, nothing fancy. Live life, live it well. Love your family. Love your parents and your sisters and your wife and your babies. Do it right, and do it now.

The scene where he visits his dad for the last time before the baby? I WAS A HOT SOBBING MESS OF SNOT ROCKETS.

It was BRUTAL.

Every single person in this entire movie was perfectly cast. Even Rachel McAdams, who I don't really love. His parents were especially perfect, and Uncle Devon (Desmond?) was almost as perfect as they were. It was just a PERFECT movie. Not a single wrong note.

I'll end with this quote from the ending, which sums it up and mildly spoils some of it, just in case you don't want to be spoiled. It doesn't ruin anything, and it really does sum it up nicely.

And in the end I think I've learned the final lesson from my travels in time; and I've even gone one step further than my father did: The truth is I now don't travel back at all, not even for the day, I just try to live every day as if I've deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.


So there you go. Read Life After Life, then watch About Time, then get back at me. And if you don't like one of them, then you're dead to me.

No pressure.

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