I’ve been meaning to read Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie mysteries for a long time now, and even more so after watching the BBC adaptation with Jason Isaacs. Of course, I now have to wait until I forget what happened in said adaptation before I can read the books, so I’ll get around to them… someday.
So I was pleased to see that this book has no ties to that series and even more pleased when I read the description and found out that the protagonist of this book would live and die and live again and die again and live some more etc. It sounded right up my brain-explodey alley.
But at first, I was disappointed. The books opens with a bang, literally, with our protagonist, Ursula, possibly killing probably Hitler but dying before she or we can find out. Then we pop back to the moment of Ursula’s birth, shortly after which she dies. Then we go back again, and this time she lives a little longer before another untimely death. It takes a little while for Ursula to live even into adulthood, and the things that happen to her while she’s living are really kind of boring, and do not live up to that great start.
But then it gets a heck of a lot better. It starts getting awesome when Ursula begins to feel a bit of déja vu and helps prevent her own death and the death of others. Around the time that Ursula starts living into World War II, the story gets a little more urgent, with the threat of death around every London corner. Things also get interesting because we can see different pieces of previous lives popping into the current ones, with good and also terrible results.
And then at like ten pages from the end one little sentence makes so many other sentences in the book make so much more sense and I vow to read everything Atkinson ever decides to write, because damn.
I’ve seen a lot of comparisons of this story to Groundhog Day, which is probably the easiest analogy but certainly not a perfect one. I think the best thing that Atkinson does with the story is to give Ursula only a little bit of agency in changing her life — a sense that something is about to happen or that something is very wrong, but no real knowledge of what will occur or how to fix it. And where Bill Murray in the end created a more or less perfect day, things don’t wrap up quite so neatly for Ursula, which is fine by me.
Recommendation: If you have the hours required to read this 500-page book, and the patience required to wait for it to come together, you should probably read this.