**Possible Spoilers** It’s not a sentence I thought I’d ever type, but the recent Emily Blunt / Tom Cruise film ‘The Edge of Tomorrow’ reminded me hugely of Kate Atkinson’s prize-winning novel, ‘Life After...
Imagine that you could re-live your life over and over again, learning to avoid dangerous obstacles and people, so that each time you survive longer and longer.
The book ‘Life After Life’ opens with a baby dying in childbirth, the chapter ending with the phrase “darkness fell” a signal throughout the book that her life has ended. The next time she’s born she lives a little longer, until toddler age, and then the next time, until she’s a young girl, and so on. Each time she is reborn she has learned, innately, to avoid whatever pitfall had caused her demise the first time.
So too, does Tom Cruise. Bear with me. In the big-budget sci-fi movie ‘The Edge of Tomorrow’, he plays a weak, cowardly anti-hero who is called to fight invading UFOs and almost immediately bites the alien bullet. When he awakes, he finds he has been restored to the day before, very much alive. He goes back into battle, and dies again, albeit having dodged the alien that killed him the first time. This keeps happening, over and over until he learns how to stay alive – by avoiding whatever killed him last time – for long enough to kill the baddies and win the day. Guided, I must add, by the immensely talented Emily Blunt in a refreshing role as a female hero rescuing the male protagonist from guileless inertia.
Both plots demonstrate perfectly the fascinating idea that if we were given just one more chance, we’d learn from it; we’d never repeat the same mistake. If only we could have ‘do-overs’ in real life, the world would be a different place. We would be more courageous, obviously, but also probably more selfless, more aware of our tiny position as a miniscule piece on an enormous chess board. In the movie, Tom Cruise uses this gift to kill aliens, in the book the main protagonist shoots Hitler. You get the picture.
The book ‘Life After Life’ is a work of historical fiction, which appeals to me greatly. Set largely in the twenties, thirties and forties, it paints a picture of the period between great wars, the legacy of the first and of course the further devastation that came with the second. Because the setting, timeframe and ancillary characters regularly change, the book reads like a series of novellas at time, rather than a single manuscript.
If I could ask Kate Atkinson one question, it would be; how on earth did she plot this book? My guess is very methodically. No free-association word vomit for this book. The premise simply would not allow it.
As the novel approaches its pinnacle it veers close to the tedious, as by that stage one is expecting the phrase “darkness fell” at every turn. However, it is the exquisite writing and the deft, subtle hand propelling the plot forward that keeps the reader engaged at every turn. Kate Atkinson is, in short, highly deserving of the many prizes and accolades she received for ‘Life After Life’. It’s a must-buy. So too, suprisingly, is ‘Edge of Tomorrow’. I know, right?!
Images via Amazon.com and The Edge of Tomorrow official site thingie