Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)
by Patrick O'Connor
THE BBC's adaptation of Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series of novels, featuring Jason Isaacs as the former police inspector turned private investigator and set in Edinburgh, is one of my favourite TV crime dramas.
But Atkinson is superbly adept at other genres, as demonstrated by her latest book, Life After Life, a magnificent, sprawling examination of the concept of déjà vu and reincarnation.
We follow the life – or lives – of Ursula Todd who is born into an affluent middle-class family in 1910 and promptly dies after having her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.
The author then offers an alternative view – what would have happened if Ursula survived, what sort of life would she have had?
This 'what if' formula is continued time and time again as Ursula encounters a series of traumatic, life-threatening events. Sometimes she dies, sometimes she doesn't and so on and on it goes, taking her through two World Wars and endless, fascinating scenarios detailed in Atkinson's captivating prose.
It sounds far-fetched but Atkinson's skills as an author make the reader accept this flow of non-linear narrative without batting an eyelid.
The plot gets even more intriguing as Ursula's sense of deja vu, of having been here before, becomes more acute.
This is never more relevant than when explored through her experiences in the Second World War, via the Blitz and also an alternative lifetime in which Ursula is trapped in Germany after marrying a German.
Life After Life is one of those books you don't want to put down, drawn into a world that is both puzzling and enthralling.