Length: 471 pages
Publisher: Transworld Publishers/Random House
Source: From the publisher
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.
Here’s what I thought:
I should probably say right up front that I love Kate Atkinson. She’s one of my auto-buy authors, and I don’t have many of them. So when I was given the chance to read a galley copy of this book for review, I jumped on it (with both feet.)
Ursula Todd is special. Having died at birth, she seems to have been given a unique opportunity–to live her life over until she gets it right. For anyone who has ever wondered what it would be like to be given a second chance, here is little Ursula being given second, and third, and fourth…a seemingly endless number of chances. Only she doesn’t know it, at least not at first. She senses that certain decisions are right or wrong based on the experiences of her past lives, but she doesn’t know why she feels this way.
As the reader, we seem to be given a clue as to why Ursula keeps coming back to life. Her ultimate purpose, the endgame of her existence seems to be clear from early on in the book, but as anyone who has ever read Atkinson knows, her resolutions are rarely so clear-cut. What was already a fascinating and entertaining story became something even more–and kept me thinking about and questioning its meaning long after I’d finished the last page.
Atkinson’s characters draw you in from the beginning. There is a humanity to them that goes beyond being merely likeable or unlikable. They are quirky and interesting and real, and I felt an attachment to Ursula that made her often disastrous outcomes truly heartbreaking. I wanted so much for her to finally get it right.
The setting ranges the years of Ursula’s life and from England to Germany, but the majority of the book takes place in WWII London. Having read another book set during the Blitz only a few months ago, I found Atkinson’s portrayal of the city under siege gave a new depth to my understanding of this period and how completely fatalistic a time it was.
I thoroughly enjoyed Life After Life, and I would recommend it to Atkinson fans both old and new. An amazing book by a masterful writer.
(And if you’re interested in learning more about Atkinson’s other books, I wrote a guest post last year for At Home With Books on The Best of Kate Atkinson).
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