Every once in a while I come across a book that takes me by surprise and leaves me feeling unsure of how I really feel about it. This was one of those. I’m not even sure how to categorize this book, to be quite honest.
Last Tuesday I got an email from Meetup about a newly formed book club in a neighbouring town, which was to have its first meeting three days after the meeting of my current book club (I was still rushing to get through The Hypnotist at the time). I found this reasonably price on Audible, and calculated that I’d have 3 days to get through 15 hours of narration, which could be done, so I bought the book, and set off to join a brand new book club. This is all the preparation I had upon starting this.
So let me tell you a little bit about what this book is about:
On a snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born with the cord around her neck, and dies during childbirth. On a snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born with the cord around her neck, the doctor cuts the cord, and she lives. When Ursula Todd is five years old, she drowns at the beach. When Ursula Todd is five years old, she almost drowns at the beach, but gets rescued by a stranger. Later that year, she falls out a window and dies. Later that year, she almost falls out a window, but lives. You get the drift. She dies, over and over, but there is suddenly a return to a point in the past, where she is somewhat aware of a deja vu feeling which compels her to take a different path – and not die. And so we live many lives along with Ursula, while she struggles to live, and keep her loved ones alive.
Really interesting premise. Amazing potential. The execution? Okay. It builds up to good for a while there, but not quite what I was expecting.
The thing is, the prologue starts with Ursula preparing herself to shoot Hitler. I mean, seriously. She wants to shoot Hitler. And then we’re transported into the past while we watch her being born multiple times while having a really hard time staying alive.
So the first quarter of the book or so is not exactly riveting. I mean, I love Downton Abbey, but the life of a toddler/child in the early twentieth century is not interesting enough to keep relieving. Since I personally don’t like historical fiction all that much, it felt a little like watching paint dry. Plus, I was listening to the audiobook, so there were no clear markings of when we were rebooting into a new life, and so I kept getting confused and having to rewind a bit (until I realised that yes, she dies and comes back to life).
It picks up when she becomes a teenager and goes through her first adult life. She goes through some rough patches I am not going to spoil for you guys, because I do think this book deserves to be read, especially if you life turn of the century and WWII centric novels. It discreetly brings forth a lot of issues that were markedly dramatic at the time, but still resonate today: rape, domestic abuse, abortion, victim blaming, war and living in war zones, death and the consequences of inaction.
And we get to see how sometime seemingly innocuous events can implicate drastic consequences, how a small decision may change an entire life. So yes, it gets pretty interesting. Until it gets repetitive again, and at the end a bit confusing.
I think I missed an explanation. We get some glimpses that perhaps this doesn’t happen only to her, but it doesn’t move forward. And we have a slightly open end, and I really prefer it when books leave nothing open to interpretation.
(Note to authors everywhere: please always wrap everything up in a nice little bow for me – if things are left up in the air I feel like you were either too lazy/uncreative to finish your novel, or too cowardly to own up to the fact you wanted a controversial ending.)
So yeah, all in all, not a bad book. Slow to start, and confusing at times, but mostly a pretty good story being told. Now that it’s been 48 hours since I finished it, and have had time to digest it, I think I really did enjoy it.