19 February 2014

Reading and Writing

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson 5/5

An astounding work of great intricacy; a non-linear exploration of what might have been; an authentic account of London in The Blitz, brutal yet poignant; an exquisite portrayal of a middle-class British family beginning in Georgian times.

Atkinson poses a theoretical question: what might happen if we had the chance to live our lives again? Could we alter the outcome of events both minor and monumental? But this is not time travel; nor is it reincarnation. Protagonist Ursula Todd begins life on a snowy night in 1910, an event she will revisit numerous times. Sometimes she reaches childhood, other times well into adulthood but whenever her life ends it recommences, right back at the beginning.
 
There are numerous episodes of deja vu. Some events repeat identically, others are altered by fate or by choice. This is however not merely about how a single little girl's life might unfold. The Butterfly Effect is in full force. In addition to assembling a complex and appealing puzzle, Atkinson has crafted a magnificent tribute to a bygone era. Her descriptions of London and Berlin, before, during and after both Wars are so authentic she might actually have lived through these periods herself.
 
With effortless style she recreates the culture, feel and ambiance of long forgotten times. Life After Life is the kind of novel that lingers in your mind long after you turn the final page, or in my case listen to the dulcet, and very English tones, of Fenella Woolgar on the audiobook. A hugely satisfying experience and one I won't spoil by revealing further details.


Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane  4/5

Nothing is ever quite what it seems in this nightmarish tale of murder, madness and trickery, set entirely on a fictional Island where the criminally insane are kept out of harm's way. Ostensibly, Teddy Daniels is a US Marshall, arriving to investigate the apparent disappearance of an inmate.
 
From that point the plot twists and thickens and both reader and Daniels have difficulty separating reality from fantasy. What seemed simple becomes complex. There are codes for the Marshall to decipher and anagrams for the reader to ponder. The facility is part hospital/part prison and Daniels is convinced the Management are covering up a program of unauthorised experiments on the patients. Lehane does a fantastic job of slowly lifting the lid on a tortured mind.
 
Even as the final crescendo is approached we can't entirely distinguish the good guys from the bad. Not until the closing chapter and in a chilling epilogue does the author reveal the full horrifying story.

 
Writing
 
Much of my reading now is in the form of audiobooks. Days are so full with shuttling the children around and running errands that I spend any spare daylight following my current favourite hobbies: genealogy and running. Reading/listening is strictly a night time affair.
 
Instead of creative writing, I have been writing about my family history, researching the subtle details where possible and putting them into my own words. Although you can never run out of ancestors to reasearch, I have reconstructed sufficient families now (about 800 marriages and 3,000 individuals) to know my inlaws from my outlaws! The names, dates, occupations and addresses are important but hanging flesh on those old bones is what brings the past to life.
 
Run, write, read, listen. Breathe... and repeat!