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Life After Life – Review

lifeYikes, this is a tough one.

I found Life After Life rather isolating to read: halfway through the book I became convinced that I was the only human being in the world who didn’t like it. ‘Dazzling,’ ‘Triumphant.’ All the reviews glowed, but I was left out in the cold.

The premise is this: Ursula Todd lives her life over and over again. If she dies falling out of a window when she’s five, she’ll get another go – this time she’ll avoid the plunge. Ursula is born in the idyllic 1800s, and watches the world change completely: we follow her life multiple times as she lives through two world wars, meets a cast of excellently-written characters, and slowly works out what she needs to do with her strange gift.

There are so many things to like about this book. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are enjoyably real (Ursula’s relationship with her sister Pammy is a real gem), and it was so good to have a female protagonist who showed complete independence. None of Ursula’s ‘happy endings’ involved a husband, and she was content with that. How many books have you read which feature that as a plot point?

And yet…I didn’t enjoy reading it. The idea of a reincarnated heroine was an interesting one, but in practise it didn’t work at all for me. Every time I was just getting into the book, it stopped and started again. There were no high stakes: sure, this life is bad, but I know she’s just going to die and next time she’ll escape the catalyst which led to her current misery. Eventually I gave up caring, because I knew that nothing was going to have any lasting consequences.

As a result, I can clinically stand back from Life After Life and say yes, this is a technically excellent book. But it never tugged at my heartstrings, it never made me feel anything for the characters. It never made me care.

Disclaimer: I may be the only reader on the edge who didn’t like this novel. Read it, think about it, make up your own mind about it. Join Gillian Flynn, Hilary Mantel and the Daily Telegraph, their praise right there on the book’s cover.

I’ll be the one scowling as darkness falls for the twentieth time.

Be Awesome – Review

Be Awesome by Hadley Freeman

 

I’ll try and keep this review short and sweet … unlike the book.

Although we all enjoyed releasing our inner feminist and generally learning how to be awesome, it just got a bit, well, repetitive and the book lost its focus in places. Hadley Freeman is a journalist by trade and there were many of us who had read her articles previously and enjoyed them. However, reading a whole book felt to me like being hit over the head with the feminist propaganda stick … repeatedly.

We wondered whether if we had read the book at 15 we’d have held it up as our feminist bible and general guide for being a woman, and in truth we probably would have done. But it seemed that she wrote for the 15-year-old in us, rather than for the adult, and in all honesty going up against Caitlin Moran is a big ask, and in the book stakes, we don’t think Freeman quite pulled it off.

The themes and subjects she wrote about were interesting – media portrayal of women, eating disorders, dating, married with kids vs single but resolutely happy etc – but quite often she over-played these and kept circling back to previous arguments in an almost stream of consciousness. For me, there was nothing ‘new’ that stopped me in my tracks, and after reading the reviews I was disappointed that laughs were few and far between.

The best way I can sum up the book is to reference to the chapter pretending to be a ‘typical’ magazine article based on a meeting with the author. It would have been perfect had it been 2 pages long and short and punchy – and that, we felt, was the problem with the whole book.

I’m going to give this 2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

As an aside, how can you not think Love Actually is the best, most perfect Christmas film ever – and I don’t care if as a ‘modern feminist’ I shouldn’t think that!