I’ve often played with this idea in my mind that if one little thing in my past had changed, my whole life would turn out differently. That little thing could be a decision, a certain person I met, an instance of being in a certain place at a certain time. Sometimes I’ve longed to go back in time, to change one thing and see what becomes of it. This novel plays upon that idea in a way that my imagination loved.
Well, which one? There are actually several plots happening throughout this story because each time Ursula dies, she goes back, relives part of her life, and does something different, which changes the course of her life. Most times, these decisions are an improvement. Instead of dying, she is saved. But often times, these relivings involve other people, and Ursula attempts to save her loved ones from dreadful fates as well.
Ursula Todd is the main character, the one who lives dozens of lives. It’s easy to feel immediately sympathetic for a character who dies at birth and again at a very young age. Dreadful things happen to her as she grows and, though she tries to make the best of things, these situations often lead to her demise, which then give her another chance to make things right. My other favorite characters were her brother, Teddy, and her Aunt Izzie, because they were so real and enjoyable.
Atkinson did a wonderful job of not only making each life vivid and real, but incredibly emotional. I felt no less horror each time Ursula died, even knowing she would live again. There were times I screamed in anger, many times I cried, and plenty of laughs along the way as I read this book. At first it can be somewhat confusing if you go into the book not having read the description which tells you that Ursula lives over and over, but you’ll quickly catch the patterns.
It’s been many months since I finished this book and I’m still thinking about it. It was an emotional journey that I’d highly recommend. If you’ve ever wondered, “What would have happened if…” then you’ll probably enjoy this book. It is historical fiction, as it takes place in the early 1900s, but that factor ended being almost inconsequential to the story because it was the characters that I loved.
The Goodreads Description
On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.
Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.
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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson”
Loved this book – just ever so slightly disappointed by the end. Great review lay out, you can really see what’s what!
Thank you! I love the Groundhog Day type stories like this. You might also like Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. It has a similar premise.