Synopsis (from Goodreads):
On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways.
Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization. Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.
I have read and liked some of Ms. Atkinson’s books. This one won Goodreads’ Choice Award in 2013 and it was listed among 100 Notable Books of 2013 by New York Times. I had it on my virtual shelf practically for ages and, after some prodding from other bloggers who really liked it, I finally decided to read it. Unfortunately and to my utter surprise I DNFed it after roughly one third of the text.
Why? Already the first scene put me off: Ursula, the main lead, dies after assassinating Adolf Hitler. Such a worn-out, old trick. Honestly, if it was supposed to be a solid hook I was clearly not right kind of fish. This is not a spoiler, by the way, the assassination occurs literally on page one. I thought ‘ok, let’s give the book another chance’ and went on reading. Unfortunately the rest left me equally disappointed.
As it often happens with overhyped and overrated books I expected too much and was given barely a basic story which, even if is well-written, keeps restarting and restarting forever. I don’t like time travelling and the premise was a variation of that – a Groundhog Day without any logical explanation or reason. Apart from that Ursula was not a heroine which would gain my interest or sympathy. Compared to other females created by Atkinson she felt dull; what’s worse, she almost never remembered her previous predicaments which, I suppose, was intended to make her more believable but I found it spurious. Fate of civilization, this girl? Come off it. Add to it the fact that there were almost no meaningful character interactions (how could they be meaningful, she dies and dies and dies…) and you get one disaster of a book – at least from my point of view.
Overall I felt as if the author chose the easier way with this kind of plot – as soon as something went wrong pah, and Ursula died. And then she started anew. Why make an effort and plan something intricate when you can make your heroine return and return forever, apparently without any reason?
I really wanted to enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed its cover – to no avail. It only showed that I am a linear narration girl and jumps in time are really not my cuppa. Plus the heroine was as warm and likeable as carp in aspic. Sorry.
Other Kate Atkinson’s novels reviewed on this blog:
- One Good Turn (Jackson Brodie 02)
- When Will There Be Good News (Jackson Brodie 03)
- Started Early, Took My Dog (Jackson Brodie 04)