Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

November 1930

A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the cafe.

This is a fancy way of saying: Ms. Pronoun walked into a room. On the surface there seems like a lot of information here: date, person, place, and weather...but in fact it's barren with no conflict or no problem - in short - no story. And I sense a weather report in the pangs of birth.

Second sentence:

She had come in from the rain and drops of water still trembled like delicate dew on the fur coats of some of the women inside.

A poetic weather report does not a better weather report make; in fact, it makes it worse. Mind, if a weather report is placed somewhere else, anywhere else, except at the very beginning, it goes unnoticed. Why anyone would begin their awesome story with a weather report is beyond me. Perhaps to create atmosphere, you say? But can't that be done as the story, the problem, the conflict unfold with characters doing and saying things? It almost never matters if it's raining at the beginning of a book. In this one, it definitely doesn't matter. Rain doesn't hook. I suspect the writer understands this, so overcompensates with an attempt to hook using the ornate-language approach.

The short of it is, Mrs. Pronoun (or Ms. or Miss) enters some place to meet Mr. Pronoun. There are lots of German words used, one presumes to establish a sense of place and more atmosphere.

The next chapter also begins with weather:

An icy rush of air, a freezing slipstream on the newly exposed skin.

Am I the only one who thinks this sentence is unfinished? Perhaps the author had a deadline to meet and hopes we'll figure it all out, or more likely, this is born from the school of artsy-fartsy. Anyway, it's about another pronoun caught in bad weather.

First thing said:

“Guten Tag, gnädiges Fräulein."

Which is German. My German is not so hot, but I think this means: Gluttonous skin tag and g'nagging frown line. So I'm a little confused.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

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