Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Ursula is always a member of the same family - Hugh, Sylvie, Pamela, Teddy, Jimmy and Maurice - her father, mother, and siblings respectively. They never change. Hugh is always the staid banker and Sylvie the rather shallow and dramatic mother. Teddy and Jimmy are the sweet brothers and Pammy is the stalwart sister and confidante. Maurice represents the dark side of the family with his meanness in childhood and self-importance in adulthood. Then there's the aunt, Izzy, who as Sylvie's antithesis, provides a safehaven for Ursula at various times in her various lives.
Atkinson is a phenomenal writer, known for her popular Jackson Brodie mystery series. The stories that she presents in this novel are compelling in and of themselves. Her characters are well-developed, including Ursula whose life changes constantly. What is driving me crazy, as I listen to this (Fenella Woolgar is an excellent reader), is the repetition of parts of the story. Much of the story takes place during WWII. Ursula always seems to have the same job, but her lovers change and her location changes, all with striking effects upon the story. Right now, Ursula is part of a search and rescue team attending to a bombed out home where in another part of the book Ursula lived and "died."
Sometimes I feel like I'm reading one of those children's books where you choose your own ending. Other times I feel like these are scenes from the cutting room floor that are retrieved to retell the story until the director gets it right. What I always feel is that this is a unique reading experience because while there are aspects of the story that drive me crazy, I love the way Atkinson ties everything together with a twist. You have to keep reading (or in my case, listening) to see what happens. What will be the ultimate fate for Ursula? How will her presence in a particular place at a particular time affect the outcome? How long can this go on and still remain a compelling story? Well, I'll be happy to let you know as soon as I do. In the meantime go out and get the book for yourself and enjoy the ride with me.