Life after Life
Author: Kate Atkinson
Publisher: Random House
Life after Life is a complex, clever novel by English writer, Kate Atkinson.
It begins in England, 1910, with a snowstorm in which a baby is born but dies before she can take her first breath.
During this same snowstorm, the same baby is born, and lives.
This baby is Ursula Todd, and Life after Life is her story. This novel poses the interesting question, What if you were given a second chance, or third chance, or in fact an infinite number of chances to live your life and get it right? In Life after Life, Ursula gets to live her life many times over. We read her story in which she dies, and then the same story is retold, with some crucial details changed, meaning her life is altered and she lives. It is a fascinating view – kind of like a choose your own adventure – and poses all kinds of questions about destiny, fate, and decisions. Because of this, the story is complex and it is not always easy to keep track of where you are within the story. Despite this, I found the novel quite mesmerizing.
Ursula was always considered by her family to be a unusual child. The family’s housekeeper, Bridget, remarks early on that Ursula “had the second sight.” That “there were doorways between this world and the next…but only certain people could pass through them.” Throughout her life, Ursula often has a strong sense that she has experienced things before – a kind of deja vu. “She was disturbed by herself. She dreamed of flying and falling all the time.”
Life after Life is an evocation of England during the early 20th Century. Despite being set during the second world war, I got a strong sense of the languid English summers Ursula spent at Fox Corner, her family’s house in rural England.
“It was beautifully hot and time treacled past every day with nothing more to do than read books and go for long walks”
This is the first novel by Kate Atkinson that I have read. It is a challenging, thoughtful novel and I highly recommend it.