I do like Kate Atkinson. I have read and liked all her books, but this one was different. I loved this one. She pushed herself with this one. The story is not straightforward at all. The story, or to be more accurate, the stories are of a girl born in 1910. In one, she dies straight away, the umbilical cord strangles her. In another, she dies as a child, in others, certain things happen to her to her that have consequences throughout her life. The book jacket features another where she kills Hitler (so it is not a spoiler for me to mention that one).
The books jumps around in time to accommodate this complicated way of writing. We jump forward and backward and from different life path to life path. I knew I liked Atkinson’s style, so the fact that I liked it does not surprise me. What is so impressive is that she manages to jump around in time so much and she does not confuse me at all.
This book is much more thought-provoking and interesting than her other books. Towards the end of the book, our hero, Ursula, gets a feeling of what is happening to her. She senses all those other possibilities and the lives she could have had. But, all of us do that don’t we? All of us think back to the big decisions we made that sent our lives off on one trajectory, and we think about how things could have been. But, this book made me think of all the small things I did that made such a difference to my life, just a small change in timing that meant that I did or didn’t meet that person. It is so interesting to explore that other possibility in a novel.
If all that were not enough reason to love this book, I love historical novels set in Britain between the World Wars. That time must have been so tough but it was a time of great sociological change. This book illustrates that so well, the many paths a young woman could take back then, so of them more traditional, most of them I consider quite unusual.
This might just be the perfect book. Brilliant characters, great story, and imaginatively told. Did I mention that it passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours? If you only read one Kate Atkinson novel, make it this one. Hell, if you only read one novel this year, make it this one.