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Life After Life (Todd Family, #1)
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2013 Book Discussions > Life After Life - Section 1 (September 2013)

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message 1: by Pip (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pip | 102 comments This thread is to discuss your initial reactions after reading just the first three chapters. Be aware that there will be SPOILERS, so please ensure you've read this far before delving into the discussion.

In these first mere six or so pages, Atkinson sets out her premise for the novel: "What if you had the chance to live your life again and again until you finally got it right?".

What are your impressions of the opening scene (Be Ye Men Of Valour) and the two scenes (both entitled Snow) set on 11th February 1910?


Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I've just gone back and reread the opening. I think, the first time through, I was sort of impatient to get into the book. Looking back at those chapters now, I get a lot more from them than I did the first time. There are many little details there that will recur through the book. Particularly with "Snow," details will vary and point of view will vary at least a little with each retelling.


message 3: by Maureen (new)

Maureen (montanamo) | 9 comments I agree, Casceil, that throughout the book there are details that don't seem important at the time, but the author does tie them up nicely at the end.


Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments You know, I couldn't look at it until I've finished the entire book, but I'd love to see a time-line for this book with all the branches!


message 5: by Ava Catherine (last edited Sep 02, 2013 12:29PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ava Catherine | 1 comments I think the symbolism is so important, and it is easy to miss it the first time through.

Peter, what an excellent idea!


Diane | 35 comments I read Life after Life within days of its publication and loved it so much I ended up giving away my copy of the book (rather, copies, since I think I gave away 3 of them) and didn't have one for myself! I just obtained yet another copy, and will be rereading for the discussion.

What I remember on my first reading of the first section: shock. Even though I knew the premise/concept of the book before starting, I was still startled when Ursula died the first, and second times. Then I started seeing the similarities of detail that signaled her ending--over and over.


Diane | 35 comments Pip wrote: In these first mere six or so pages, Atkinson sets out her premise for the novel: "What if you had the chance to live your life again and again until you finally got it right?".

I've been wondering about this. Do you think it's a question of opportunity or inevitability? I mean, to you think Atkinson is suggesting that Ursula is taking the chance to live her life over and over, somehow deciding to do so to make things right, or is she caught in a cycle of eternal return?


Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Diane, I think this question goes to the heart of the purpose of the book. I'm about 70% of the way through now, and my theories keep changing as I gather new data. As far as I can tell, though, she doesn't get a chance to decide about coming back; it just happens to her.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments Now that I've reread the first six pages, after having the whole book, it strikes me that perhaps Sylvie also relived a couple of times. Cannot say more, as that would require real spoilers.

Also, a lot of reviews focus on the last quote about having the "chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right." I think the question that Diane asks raises the issue in the first quote from Nietzsche, and I think either answer is supportable by what takes place.


message 10: by Pip (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pip | 102 comments Linda wrote: "Now that I've reread the first six pages, after having the whole book, it strikes me that perhaps Sylvie also relived a couple of times. Cannot say more, as that would require real spoilers.

Also..."


Which quote are you referring to, Linda?


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments Pip, I am referring to the quote by Nietzsche on the page at the beginning of the book, just before the table of contents, that states:

"What is some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more'... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.'"


message 12: by Pip (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pip | 102 comments Linda wrote: "Pip, I am referring to the quote by Nietzsche on the page at the beginning of the book, just before the table of contents, that states:

"What is some day or night a demon were to steal after you i..."


Thank you so much for reminding us of this, Linda. I remember when I first read the novel thinking, "I must remember to highlight this quote to the other readers" - and then promptly forgot ;-)

Yes, I agree that apart from the question of whether Ursula has control or not of her repeating lives, the question Nietzsche proposes as to whether it is a blessing or a curse is a very relevant one.

Perhaps the best place to discuss this point would be in the final section. Please feel free to bring it up there!


Jane from B.C. (janethebookworm) | 63 comments I am jumping in here without having read any of the above comments, so pardon me if I am repeating what has already been said.

My initial thoughts concerning the opening Nietzche quote are would it be a blessing or a curse if given the opportunity to be repeatedly reborn. I guess part of the answer to that would depend on how much you could control what is happening to you and how much your rebirth could effect change to events you have already experienced. If you don't remember things from past lives, how could you effect change?

**

With regard to the quote third quote:

"What if we had a chance to do it again and again until we finally did get if right? Wouldn't that be wonderful"
Edward Beresford Todd

This quote assumes that we know what has occurred in the past lives. But my thought is, how would one ever know if one 'got it right'?

In the opening scene Ursula Todd (who's name we don't yet know, but she has a handkerchief with initials UBT) is able to shoot Hilter. Is this Ursula getting it right?

As and aside - I am curious as this third quote is attributed to someone with the same last name as our main character (Todd). Is this a real quote or a fictitious one?


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments Holy oleo - Jane from BC, you are correct! Edward Beresford Todd is a poet but only in the LAL world, as you will see. I totally missed it! Now isn't that interesting!


message 15: by Lily (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2464 comments Linda wrote: "Holy oleo - Jane from BC, you are correct! Edward Beresford Todd is a poet but only in the LAL world, as you will see. I totally missed it! Now isn't that interesting!"

Had paid no attention. Another of the reasons reading and sharing with others is such a boon!


Diane | 35 comments I think Atkinson's main purpose in writing this book was to explore the Nietzschean notion of the eternal return, summed up in the quote noted above. She demonstrates effectively how such a return would sometimes be a blessing, and in other cases a curse. And sometimes, she demonstrates how the return can be both a blessing and curse simultaneously. In addition, she shows how choices branch out into similar or completely different, often unforeseen consequences. (Have any of you read Borges? I'm thinking in particular of The Garden of Forking Paths. I think that you don't have to push Life after Life very far to find yourself deep into bifurcation theory and quantum mechanics:)


Trudie (trudieb) I just recently joined this group, so playing catch up with your Sept read. I really enjoy Atkinson's writing style my experience with Behind the Scenes at the Museum was wonderful and I was drawn into her whimsy and humour.
The first few chapters of this novel I found myself just enjoying her style all over again and at this stage the premise of Ursula reliving her life again and again is almost secondary to me - I am sure this may change...

I loved this part
."...Had no idea where babies came from, even on her wedding night she remained baffled. Her mother Lottie, had hinted but fallen shy of anatomical exactitude. Conjugal relations between man and wife seemed, mysteriously, to involve larks soaring at daybreak."

then later
" Sylvie's mother grew pale and uninteresting, larks soared no more for her as she faded, consumed by consumption. "

fantastically humorous and quite droll.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments Diane wrote: "I think Atkinson's main purpose in writing this book was to explore the Nietzschean notion of the eternal return, summed up in the quote noted above. She demonstrates effectively how such a return ..."

bifurcation theory and quantum mechanics - wow

You caught my attention and caused me to look for a quick explanation of bifurcation theory, which, with my limited mathmatics turned out badly!


Diane | 35 comments Oh, sorry Linda!! My mathematics are not good either--my comment was more about the way each fork in the road manifests new realities, new universes--any decent mathematician would shudder at my co-option of the terms.
:)


message 20: by Alana (last edited Jul 29, 2018 06:10PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alana (alanasbooks) | 26 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "Holy oleo - Jane from BC, you are correct! Edward Beresford Todd is a poet but only in the LAL world, as you will see. I totally missed it! Now isn't that interesting!"

I missed it too, until we reach the point in the novel where the character actually says it and I remembered reading it before (but not in one of the "timelines"), then it made me flip back and look. Interesting!


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