In Life After Life (2013), British writer Kate Atkinson returns to the rewriting of History as her-story that characterized her early fiction. The protagonist’s lifespan overlaps with the major historical events of the twentieth century, allowing the writer to explore how those affected the individual lives of women and, at the same time, problematizing history, memory, and the past. Above all, Life After Life highlights the deep vulnerability of women to systemic gender violence, although it also emphasizes women’s resilience. The purpose of this paper is to examine Atkinson’s peculiar rendering of resilience, which interestingly she locates in the body, rather than in the mind. I contend that in Life After Life resilience results from the combination of embodied memory and emotional forgetting. The former—a kind of sixth sense that instinctively steers Ursula away from danger—facilitates women’s survival, while the latter ensures the character’s psychological welfare. My analysis also considers this novel and its protagonist as an important departure from Atkinson’s earlier fiction, because the protagonist is given a way out. This power, however, comes at a cost, for in order to forget, first she needs to die. However, since rebirth is a creative license and patently impossible in real-life terms, Atkinson seems to establish the impossibility of victims to put an end to their own victimization and, likewise, the ability to “recover” from that bodily violence through its physical erasure. In this respect, one may wonder whether Atkinson is just questioning the ability of female victims to be resilient, whether resilience can be a viable discourse for recovering from gender violence and, finally, whether cultural texts can successfully present female resilience at all.
Domínguez García, Beatriz.
"Resilience as Regeneration in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life."
CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture
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