Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Published by Reagan Arthur Books on April 2nd, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction
“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
I read The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle last year and it instantly became one of my favourite books of the year. I decided to look up other books with a similar Groundhog Day premise. And it was unanimous — people loved Life After Life.
In 1910 on a cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born but dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a wail, and embarks on a life that will be unusual. As she grows, she also dies repeatedly in a variety of ways while the world is on the brink of its second cataclysmic world war. Does Ursula’s ability to live an infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can… will she?
At over 500 pages, Life After Life is a major commitment. And for the most part, I really enjoyed reading it. It was very different in tone and subject matter compared to The Seven Deaths even though they both share the same basic premise.
Life After Life is not a fast-paced adventure or a mystery thriller. The pacing is relatively slow, but don’t let that fool you. This book is far from boring! This book is full of wit, charm, and humour.
It’s a novel that gathers layers as it bobs along at a steady pace. One minute you’re reading about a family growing up in the idyllic English countryside and living the halcyon days before the war. The next minute you’re reading about the terrible Spanish flu or the horrors of the Blitz.
It’s done in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re getting whiplash from the stark contrast. That is completely due to Atkinson’s beautiful writing style. You immediately fall in love with these characters and want to know everything about them. Each character comes alive with distinct personalities and it feels like you’re reading about real human beings who lived through this time.
It didn’t feel tedious to come back with Ursula as she lives another version of her life because these characters were always there with her. They leave their own personal mark and it’s a testament to how detailed Atkinson was in crafting them.
Atkinson so vividly describes bombings, the retrieval of bodies, and the cruelty of war. But what stands out to me and continues to stick with me is that dread that filled Ursula as she became more and more aware of this “déjà vu” she was experiencing. You really wanted to root for her as she began to take control of her destiny and did so with optimism.
And after reading it, I couldn’t stop thinking about the book and the “big questions” it poses. What does it mean to live and to live your life the “right” way? What makes a life worth living?
The only reason why I gave this book 4 bubble teas and not 5 is because the book did tend to drag a little bit. It definitely didn’t need to be over 500 pages reliving the same birth scene over and over again. Also, I have to say that I was disappointed by the ending. We knew it was inevitable from the beginning with the opening chapter so it felt like it was spoiled too early.
I also think Atkinson could’ve gone into more detail about Sylvie. Many times throughout the book, it was alluded to that she had the same ability as Ursula. And what did that mean for her? Did she ever want to break out from what was expected of her as a woman?
Would I read this book again? Absolutely I would. There’s so much packed in to this story. I feel like I barely scratched the surface with only one read through! I’d like to pick this up again in maybe 5 or 10 years to see if something stands out to me that I missed the first time. I’ve highlighted my favourite lines, but maybe I’ll have new lines that I love when I read it again.
I can’t believe this is the first time I’m reading Atkinson’s work! I’m already adding her other books to my TBR because I can’t get enough of her lush writing. I can’t get out of my head the way Atkinson described how the snow always fell on Ursula’s head right before she was reborn. It felt magical and beautiful.
I would recommend this book to people who love historical fiction (especially the WWs). The story is steeped in philosophical ideas and questions, so for those who love to contemplate the meaning of life, you will love this. Don’t worry — it never comes across as pretentious.