By Julie Myerson
On a snowy night in 1910, a baby is born with the cord wrapped around her neck and, because the doctor is delayed by the weather, she is dead within minutes. But a page or so later, she’s born again and this time the doctor makes it through the snow “just in the nick of time” and the baby lives.
Ursula enjoys a balmy, prewar, English country childhood, with brothers and sisters and servants and picnics and seaside outings. But the theme of drastically alternative outcomes continues. At five years old, playing in the waves with her big sister, Ursula slips in the undertow and drowns.
Yet again, we prepare to mourn her. But no, here it is all over again – the summer’s day, the crucial, dangerous moment. And this time an amateur artist happens to have set up his easel close to where the children are playing and he sees Ursula go under and returns both girls “sopping wet and tearful” to their grateful mother.
Much of the (very considerable) pleasure of this almost deliriously inventive, sharply imagined and ultimately affecting novel lies in the almost spookily vivid atmosphere and pathos that Atkinson manages to extract from all this Groundhog Day repetition. The premise – so pregnant with narrative opportunity that you wonder why no novelist has explored it before – is simple. What if we had a chance to live life “again and again, until we finally did get it right?”
Click here to read the rest of this story