Sunday 6 March 2016

Tea and books on a bright, clear day

It is another lovely day, although still chilly, but we’re expected to have unseasonably high temperatures for the next 10 days or so.  It’s not too warm to enjoy a hot cup of tea, though, and that is just what I’m doing!

Well, the cats have continued to cause issues that take up valuable reading time, so I just finished the book club selection, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson on Friday night.  Here’s a brief plot summary:  the main character, Ursula Todd, born in 1910 in the English countryside, meets an unfortunate end before she even has a chance for her life to begin… until her life begins again, and she survives, only to meet an unfortunate end as a very young girl… and then her life begins again, and she learns to survive a little bit longer, until she once again meets an unfortunate end… and so on, and so on, and so on…  I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this book, as I prefer more linear stories - some flashbacks are ok, if they help to develop the story or characters, but not too many, as I find they become distracting.  But since this book was so wildly popular, and so much in demand, I decided to put it on the list so we’d all be forced to read it.  And it was a very successful book choice indeed!  We all agreed that we were glad we read it, and that it was one we were discussing, because we all got more out of the book after hearing the views of others.  We talked about the main character, Ursula, and what it would be like to have this ability, this sixth sense, to know what was going to happen, or not really “know”, but have a glimmer of the future, and also be able to make choices that will change your own path as well as the paths of others.  As we discussed the other characters, and whose personalities remained consistent throughout Ursula’s various incarnations, we wondered if she is the only one to whom this is happening, if perhaps others are experiencing this as well.  Ursula is not choosing to do this, it is just happening to her, and it’s not reincarnation, where she comes back in another place or time as another creature, but it is the same little girl coming back to live the same life, although she has the ability to change things slightly, but then she doesn’t have the foresight to know how these changes will affect the future of her life and the lives of others.  She’s basically learning from her mistakes, but then she applies different tactics to the very same situations, which lead to other issues - “Re-experiencing life again for the first time” is how we summed it up.  When we considered whether other characters had this ability, we thought that there were suggestions that Sylvie (the mother) and Teddy (the favourite brother) may have been more receptive to these insights, while Maurice (the elder brother), Izzy (the disgraced aunt), Pamela (the elder sister) and Hugh (the father) did not have this insight, that they just “lived”.  We considered Ursula’s various lives, considering which ones were preferable to others, and which ones were the worst possible fates for her.  I mentioned that, since I knew that Ursula would die at the end of each section and then be reborn into the same life, and that most sections were fairly short-ish, when I did encounter rather longer sections, I found myself looking ahead to find when the darkness would fall so we could start again - I was rather impatient with all the detail in the longer sections.  So I guess I fell into the rhythm of the book’s structure:  whereas at first I found the short sections and the repetition a bit frustrating, by the middle of the book, it was working for me.  I was reassured to hear that I was not the only one who was looking ahead in the book for the next point at which our main character would die!  We were all somewhat disappointed by the ending - one member said she found it a bit “flat” - but after discussing it, we decided that it was really the only way Atkinson could have ended the book, that it wasn’t really an ending, that yet another incarnation could be about to begin, just beyond the last page.  We were all glad to have read it because it made each of us think about the randomness of life, and the coincidences that shape how it turns out.  We thought about free will and choice, and how we may be able to control our own choices, but have little control over the actions of others.  One member said that she read it quite quickly, which she found worked to keep herself oriented with the story’s variations, and I would have to agree; I, unfortunately, read it in short snippets over two weeks, and found it very difficult to keep track.  The details about life in both Germany and England during WWII were horrifying and enlightening (the sights, the sounds, the smells, the pressure when a bomb exploded), and the smattering of German words and phrases used throughout the book were accurate (one member lived in Germany for years and was checking for mistakes!).  So all in all, it was a lively, interesting meeting and I would definitely recommend this book if you are looking for something for your own book club.  I would also recommend discussing the book with someone if you are reading it on your own, or at least looking for reviews or discussions online, as it really enhances the meaning and power of the book’s structure and message to hear the thoughts of others.

OK, that’s it for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine!

Bye for now…

PS I just got back from a long walk and finished my audiobook, The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty. It was awesome (to find out more about it, you can check out the blog entry I wrote some time ago when I read the book). Anyway, I wanted to mention it here because the way she ends the book talks about the coincidences that shape the direction our lives take, which I had forgotten about and which fits with the book we discussed yesterday. Both authors used some humour in their books, too, although Moriarty's book was funnier than Atkinson's.

And I wanted to share something I read on a sign outside a cafe yesterday, after spending hours trying to get chores done and desperately wanting a coffee: "A yawn is a silent scream for coffee". I love that! (I never did get my coffee... sad...)

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