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A dazzling series of what-ifs

26th Apr 2014

Life After Life

Kate Atkinson

Transworld Publishers

Pages: 624 Rs. 399

There is, and has always been, a literature on the act of writing; or at any rate, an authorial impulse to look inwards. And Kate Atkinson was always a good candidate for this kind of a book; her reputation as a prose stylist has been consolidated with the Jackson Brodie novels, most recently Started Early, Took My Dog (2010), a ripping yarn punctuated with passages of expertly orchestrated mischief. It's no surprise then, that Ursula Todd, the protagonist of Life After Life, gets to re-do her life several times over. From being strangled by her umbilical cord to assassinating Hitler, Todd's choices and motivations keep changing, and with them shift the trajectories of her lives. The similarities to Michel Gondry's film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are many, particularly in the way past horrors are revealed to be softer versions of themselves in real life; the exaggeration being the deceit of an imagination in overdrive, the neurosis of someone burning the candle at both ends. A masterful novel, this, and one that richly deserves the laurels it has received. — Aditya Mani Jha

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