Life After Life

Life After Life

by Kate Atkinson

Anne Ferber (07/10/14): This is the many stories of Ursula Todd as she gets to relive her life many times with different outcomes and a different cast of characters. It is not easy to figure out which is her real life, but if you give up trying to do that, the story is compelling. As the reader, you can't help imagining: "What if such and such happened when I was four........"

The actual time frame is for the most part London during WWII, although there are major offshoots--incidents in Germany-- and the British countryside where Ursula was brought up with her sister, Pamela and brothers, Teddy and Jimmy from 1910 to post WWII.

Ursula is unusual to say the least in that she seems to have an uncanny prescient ability and sometimes she is able to do something about it and sometimes not. She is definitely a free thinker and thus at odds with her traditionally minded mother. She is also encouraged to be unconventional by her aunt Izzy who lives in London and, as a writer, is quite independent and eventually very wealthy.

I found the writing fascinating although maddening, because it is impossible to feel certain that the action of a chapter you just read is going to remain, or have a different outcome in a subsequent chapter. In all fairness, however, the author does provide some insight toward the end which gives clues as to what she was trying to achieve with all the living, dying and reliving.

I am recommending this book for the writing which was exceptionally fine, and also because I would love to hear someone else's take on this fine novel.
Rating: ****

Joyce Mandeville (04/06/14): I thought this was an extraordinary book from start to finish. Her characters are constantly getting tiny shifts in their lives that lead them in new directions. It's magical realism at its best set firmly on the ground of literary fiction.

I've always been in awe of Atkinson's writing and this is a superb addition to her body of work.
Rating: *****

Donna Newman (03/17/14): I just finished Life After Life, and I feel that the book was not really about a young girl's reincarnation. To me, the book was more like the theme of Robert Frost's poem that refers to the road not taken. What would happen if....? I was intrigued by the more than 500 pages of Atkinson's novel, but I think a good editor would have eliminated one or two of the versions of Ursula's life. The book did make me think about paths I have taken in my life and decisions I have made. The scenes of the results of the Blitz in London were compelling, and the characters were well developed. (Aunt Lizzie reminded me of the aunt in Downton Abbey who helps Edith in her time of trouble.) I read one review that suggested that Atkinson include a bibliography to help the reader find the sources of the wonderful quotes she uses. I could also have used a translator as well as a dictionary for some of her word choices.
Rating: ****

Ricki Brodie (02/28/14): Kate Atkinson ponders the question of what happens if someone dies and is reborn again and again sometimes having a sense, almost a déjà vu feeling, that she should choose a different path. Ursula Todd is always born in 1910, into the same family, with the same siblings whom we get to know and understand through her feelings towards them. She first dies at birth, drowns, falls off a roof, hit by a bomb, etc. Each life starts at the beginning and takes a new path. She finds herself friends with Eva Braun during World War II and in another life is living as a warden during the bombings of England during World War II. These scenes were described in graphic detail.

Throughout it all, the reader knows what happened before but wonders what is next. Don’t you wonder sometimes, “Ursula said. “If just one small thing had been changed, in the past, I mean. If Hitler had died at birth, or if someone had kidnapped him as a baby and brought him up in—I don’t know, say a Quaker household—surely things would be different.” Think about the movie “Back to the Future.” What happens if one thing is changed? Can Ursula learn with each life? Can she change the course of history? Do we build upon what we have learned and keep going until we get it right? Is life circular?

This was a wonderful book. I wanted to see more lives and was sad when it was over. 4+
Rating: *****

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