As a boy I loved fantasy fiction and disliked historical novels. Now I’m middle-aged it seems to be the reverse. Why is that? Having just waded through two massive tomes – Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety and George R R Martin’s A Game of Thrones – I suspect it’s not all about genre.
I first heard of Natan Sharansky in the early ’80s at a concert in the Royal Festival Hall. It was a programme of Russian music played by a visiting Soviet orchestra.
Barely five minutes into the opening symphony by Prokofiev a block of protesters sitting on the other side of the auditorium stood up, chanting, “Free Sharansky! Free Sharansky!”
It was the highlight of the evening.
What a fascinating book. Few novels kill off its main character on the first page. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is the story of Ursula Todd who lives through the early 20th Century again and again.
Having been strangled at birth by her own umbilical cord, Ursula goes on to be dealt further fatal blows by a suffocating cat, an icy roof, an ocean current, a bout of Spanish flu and a Luftwaffe bomb, to name but a few. Careless to say the least. But, as with all good books, I was soon suspending reality and enjoying the twists and turns of a very well told story.