Monday, March 3, 2014

Tournament of Books: Life After Life vs. Woke Up Lonely

I'm playing along with the Tournament of Books!  I finished almost every book this year, and honestly was impressed by very few.  This could get interesting.  I'll play along with their brackets, but will declare my own winner at the end.  This is a fun journey ever year into recent literature.

First - the pre-tournament play-off round.  Is this something that happens in basketball?  Ha.

Life After Life vs. Woke Up Lonely


I'm afraid this round is an easy call.  One book has stuck with me, and one I had to re-read my review to try to even recall what the book was about, and I'd read it far more recently.  Never a good sign.

Life After Life got a lot of acclaim this past year, making the shortlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Orange Prize), and had positive reviews in the NY Times and Publishers Weekly. The story is very English in subject matter and philosophy. I really loved the first 2/3 of this novel, about Ursula Todd, who dies shortly after birth in 1910 but gets the chance to live and die a multitude times more. The story goes back and forth between 1910, the Great War, and World War II, but depending on how the story goes it might take place various places in England, even Munich in one concept. It is like those old Choose Your Adventure novels only the reader doesn't get to choose. The author could have done that and had a similar result. The story doesn't really get linear until about 2/3 in, and for me that's where I wasn't as interested. I've read a lot of novels about World War II I guess, and I didn't find a lot of new there. I still enjoyed the book very much. I had to keep reminding myself that this was the same author of Emotionally Weird (a book I loved because it made me laugh) and Case Histories. 

Woke Up Lonely, on the other hand, suffers from inconsistencies that led me not to enjoy it as much as I might have otherwise. The characters have incredible power - one is an international cult leader so influential that North Korea has started developing a relationship with him and the feds are watching him, the other is a master of disguise and spying - but both fall apart because they miss each other (they were married at one point). Great portions of the book feel like the author got tired - at one point the cult leader is recording a message for his daughter in case he is killed (and so the author didn't even need to write dialogue or action in that entire section), at a later point his ex-wife is writing to him on hostage negotiation notecards, at a point in the novel which should be exciting but instead turns into one very long list. It felt lazy, and ultimately I did not even remember this novel.  It's a shame because I love cults, fictional or otherwise, and I really wanted to love this book.

So the pre-tournament win goes to the only book to also end up with an entry in JennyBakes, my trusty baking blog: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.  (Warning: this book may make you hungry!)

The official judge for this round is author Geraldine Brooks, and you can read her verdict as well as the commentary afterwards at the official Tournament of Books site. 

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