I don’t want to tell you what this book does, as a piece of fiction, but I will tell you what it’s about.
This is a kind of sequel, kind of companion piece to the other Kate Atkinson novel Life after Life, which I listened on a long hike. At first in that one it was frustrating to keep up with the premise, which involves the same character starting and restarting life as she keeps hitting the same fatal snags, and sort of nudging her choices and the life around to fix them. It’s like Groundhog Day if Ned were not aware of his repeating things.
In this one, we deal with Teddy, Ursula’s brother, who dies in Life after Life in bombing raid over Europe. In this novel though, he doesn’t and we get the different parts of his life sort of folded over each other so we see him at various times as a child, as a pilot, as an old man, and as a youngish husband, living the different parts of his life. It’s convoluted as I made it sound, it simply jumps around from time period to time period, occasionally looping back to reveal new information or retell certain scenes.
Early in the novel ,young Teddy ruminates on the death of a Lark and thinks not only about the life that was ended in that lark, but also the exponential potential generations of lives also lost in that moment. He also spends a lot of his time reflecting on survival rates, mortality rates, and statistics in the “mechanics of bombing” living his life a doomed man in the war. He makes his choices based on that, and then, having survived the war, reflects on those choices knowing now that he’s going to live. This is a really fascinating look at a life that the living feels was unexpected.
It’s also a really terrifying novel in it’s own way. I tend to get panicky thinking about alternate universes in books, of messing it all up and losing myself and my consciousness within them. This book is NOT about those, but listening to the random chance, the sheer number of deaths, and all the possibilities for disaster in wartime, especially as a bombing crew, gave me panic. It’s a lot of emotional what-ifs to take on.
I really like Kate Atkinson books and I know some people don’t. But once you get into the rhythm of her books, they’re really rewarding.