Neither U.S. nor UK copyright law protects titles of books. This means that someday I can call my memoirs In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran without fear of legal reprisal (though I’d gladly entertain a hand-delivered cease and desist request). On a more practical note for you, the Eleventh Stack reader, however, it means that every now and again you’ll run into multiple books with the same title, which can prove a wee bit confusing when it’s time to make a catalog reservation.
Exhibit A: two novels called Life After Life, released just six days apart. What could have been a marketing nightmare turned out to be a boon for both novelists and their publishers, as the coincidence has piqued interest in both books. That means longer library waiting lists, though, so here’s a quick-and-dirty overview of each novel, to help you decide which one you’d like better, or if you’d be happy to read both.
The residents, staff, and visitors of Pine Haven Retirement Center are the focus of Jill McCorkle’s novel about the sweet memories and painful regrets that can rise to the surface as life winds down. A hospice volunteer dutifully records her charges’ dying moments, to teach herself about living well. Another staff member does her best to care for the residents while pondering how own difficult history and uncertain future. A once-powerful man fakes dementia to avoid meaningful conversations with his combative son. As the narrative point of view shifts from character to character, the reader sees how each person affects, and is affected by, the rest of the community, and how much power a single kindness–or cruelty–can have. Although the subject matter is unavoidably heavy–we all have to die sometime–it is also laced with what I can only describe as “realistic hope,” the notion that one person’s voice can be heard, that a single life is precious. On the whole, McCorkle’s given us an honest look at what it means to live well and die well, one that will resonate with anyone who’s ever pondered her/his own mortality or otherwise dealt with hospice/end-of-life issues.
Reserve this if: you enjoyed The Secret Life of Bees or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (originally published as These Foolish Things); you like fiction set in the American South (think Sarah Addison Allen, but with more realism and less magic); you’re looking for fiction that strikes a balance somewhere between “literary” and “beach-read”; you don’t mind the uncomfortable looks people give you when they ask what the book is about and you say “death.”
If anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, what happens to you when things kill you over and over? This far-fetched rhetorical question is no joke for Ursula Todd, who dies–sometimes quite horribly–and is reborn again and again, always into the same family. Atkinson–whose Jackson Brodie mysteries already have quite a following–will earn plenty of new fans with this speculative twist on the historical novel, which focuses heavily on England’s participation in WWII. Atkinson’s ambitious premise is that the life of one person can mirror the life of a nation, and as Ursula rises, falls, and rises again, so does England. The tone is decidedly British, which includes not only the loving descriptions of everyday objects Anglophiles adore in their fiction, but also the pluck and dry wit that embody the national sense of humor.
Reserve this if: you enjoyed Code Name Verity or Downtown Abbey; your television set is perpetually tuned to BBC America; you’ve ever spent far too much time contemplating the Hitler Murder Paradox.
See why you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover? If both of these titles were in your hands right now, which one would you check out first, and why?