I’ve had Started Early, Took My Dog on my TBR list for a while. I bought it after I watched and enjoyed the TV adaptation of the other Jackson Brodie books (“Hello to Jason Isaacs” btw). Somehow or other it was one of those books that never rose to the top of the pile. However when I saw this book was being released – it was by the same author, but was stand-alone and had an intriguing premise – I thought I’d get it and read it.
Life After Life‘s premise is the idea of living a life over and over until you get it “right”. Ursula Todd was born during a snowstorm in Feb 1910 to a middle-class English couple living in the suburbs of London. In this book we see various “versions” of her life – which sometimes is cut short very soon and sometimes takes us through both the first and second world wars. It’s a bit like the movie Sliding Doors in that whilst we get to see what could have happened if different paths were taken we don’t really know why it’s happening. This is not a fantasy or supernatural book about the process of re-living lives, it’s a book comparing various versions of the same life.
It’s well-written and I did enjoy it but I think my initial impression on finishing it was “is that it?” I suppose I’d let the idea of the premise lead me into thinking that there would be some final payoff, that there would be a version of her life which was clearly “right” and clearly “the best” and so on. And there sort of was and sort of wasn’t. Maybe I just had the wrong idea about what was the “best” and maybe that’s what the book is exploring.
Along the way there’s some great writing and I liked several of the characters. You also get to see them grow and change – several times. I felt slightly sad that her mother – whose POV you tend to follow when Ursula herself is very young – seems to start as a vibrant, interesting woman with her own definite ideas about life and turns into a crotchety, slightly superior and disapproving matron. But again maybe that’s the point.
There’s also a lot of suffering in this book. We go through the wars as I said, more than once and from more than one side and as well there are just the usual vicissitudes of life. Which can make for a tough read (I kept thinking of the title of one of her Brodie novels “When Will There Be Good News?“). Occasionally I felt that none of this suffering mattered anyway because it would be wiped out in the next go around – but that happened less than one might expect which is to the credit of the author.
7/10 – overall a good read, glad to have read it, pleased it’s over.