Watching a movie or reading a book that’s gotten a whole lot of hype can be problematic because they’re just set up for failure. How many things really, completely, amazingly, wonderfully live up to the expectations? Not many, in my experience.
But still, I read books that have received loads of attention and many glowing reviews. Because sometimes, the book really will meet expectations and I will truly be blown away.
Unfortunately, this was not the case for Kate Atkinson’s newest novel, Life After Life. (Incidentally, one of the earliest bits of information I learned about the book was that two new novels were coming out around the same time with the same title, and both had favorable buzz. I might need to check out the other Life After Life, by Jill McCorkle, and see if I like it any better.) I suppose I should have been warned off it by at least one sign: I had read Atkinson’s also-much-lauded Case Histories and was unimpressed. Eh.
In the case of this book, though, the kudos came in from all kinds of quarters, and the premise of the book was fairly original and intriguing: the main character is born and dies immediately. But then just one little thing changes in an “alternate time line,” one could say, and she lives. And she goes on a few years and dies. But something changes, and she gets to live instead. And on and on. Ursula dies over and over again in all kinds of ways, but then she lives in alternate versions. Cool idea. (To read more about it, check out my full review.)
Sadly, though, the ending left me cold. I felt it just didn’t conclude or bring everything together in a meaningful way, or give me any satisfaction as a reader. I hate that. I complained about it several times after I put the book down, to any family members who would listen. I went to Goodreads and tried to take solace in the few other reviewers who were equally disappointed and wondering why everyone else was giving the book 5 stars. Even then, I still wonder: WHY? Why all the glowing reviews? What did I miss? Please, somebody explain it to me. It’s these kinds of endings that make me feel stupid, that somehow I’m missing an important piece of the puzzle that would make the book meaningful. But no, I felt the same way with this as I did when I finished Cloud Atlas: disappointed, annoyed that there was no apparent Greater Meaning anywhere. Everyone said there was this payoff, this Meaning, this Message. But no, I sure didn’t see it. Right now, I’m just reading something simple, an easy book without any Meaning. That way I won’t be disappointed again. I can’t handle it again quite this soon.
I'm a book reviewer, editor, and writer with four daughters and tons of projects always keeping me hopping. I blog at Life and Lims and run the book review site Rated Reads.