The BUZZ: One of Amazon’s Best Books of 2015, from the award-winning author of Life After Life.
The GIST: A ‘companion’ to Life After Life ( which I have not read ). This story focuses on Teddy, the beloved little brother of Ursula Todd, from that debut novel. Teddy is an old Brit reviewing his life as one of the few WWII Halifax pilots to beat the odds. He’s a sensitive hero with emotions he is unable to articulate, except in prose. If it weren’t for the war, perhaps he would have been a successful writer, like his daughter, Viola. She’s bitter and insensitive, having been shaped by the early loss of her mother, and her toxic blaming of Teddy. Her own mothering tends toward damaging selfishness all around, but we come to understand her. Teddy’s accomplishments and failings are recounted from different angles in time and narration. We see the inexorable rippling effect of a life, and the courage required to reckon with our deepest emotions. Much is revealed in the final chapters, with a stunning twist.
The WRITING: Intense and inventive. I haven’t gotten this absorbed in a book in a long time. It’s a big one at 480 pages, but Atkinson never loses momentum. Even without a singular plot, I stayed captivated by Teddy and his connections to the characters in his past and present. It was challenging to stay grounded in the back-and-forth timeline if I went a few days between readings, but brilliant storytelling made up for any strains on my comprehension. The author’s keen research is evident in the historical material, which provided an interesting glimpse into the aviator’s war. Her wit and authentic dialogue had me rereading passages – some of them so poignant I had to look away from the page.
BUY OR BORROW: Buy. I avoided the first book because it sounded too depressing, but now I know I’m in good hands and will pick up Life After Life. I look forward to Ursula’s story – her cameos in this book provided the reality anchor.
“Viola was the solitary arrow they had shot blindly into the future, not knowing where she would land. They should have aimed better, Teddy thought…”