My first impulse after starting this book was that I had to go back and read Life After Life again. Kate Atkinson has written an extraordinary companion novel to her previous masterpiece returning us to the world of the Todd family and Fox Corner. This time to tell us Ursula’s brother Teddy’s story.
Life After Life detailed the multiple lives of Ursula Todd before, during and after the Second World War. It was dazzling original, wildly imaginative and brilliantly inventive and was an absolute masterpiece of storytelling and writing. I was in awe of the book and am in greater awe as she takes her writing to another level in telling the companion story.
Unlike with Ursula this time Kate Atkinson tells us one life. One rich, long, detailed life. But that does not mean it is any less original, imaginative or inventive as its previous companion. The narrative is far from linear bouncing from Teddy’s experiences as a bomber pilot, to his life as an old man, to before the war and everything in between. We meet Teddy’s daughter and grandchildren long before we learn of his life and relationship with their mother. And with each piece of Teddy’s life that we gather we slowly form his whole, how events have shaped him and how he has shaped events including the choices he makes, the mistakes and the consequences.
In telling Teddy’s story in the order she does Atkinson again fleshes her characters out in a unique and inventive manner which challenges our initial judgements and forces us to make corrections. She has also written a brilliant war novel that not only vividly captures what it was like to fly on bombing raid after bombing raid over Germany in the Second World War but explores the aftereffects of war that stretches well into a new century through two more generations.
Kate Atkinson has written a novel that fits perfectly with her previous one. Each novel can be enjoyed on their own or together and read in any order. I can’t wait to go back and revisit Ursula’s lives with this new layer to enrich it. I was in awe of Kate Atkinson after Life After Life and am further dazzled by the follow-up. A writer truly at the height of her powers and what a pleasure it is to enjoy.