Life After Life

Kate Atkinson

Life After Life
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Life After Life

Kate Atkinson

Winner of the 2013 Costa Novel Award.

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath. During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale. What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

Review

Ursula Todd is born on a snowy night in an English village in 1910. She dies before taking her first breath. But what if things had happened differently? What if she had lived?

Ursula is born again on that snowy night, and again, though older this time, she dies. Then she is born again, and we see another life she could have led. Atkinson has crafted an entrancing novel in which the same event is repeated, but always varied, changing both Ursula’s lives and the lives of those around her. While Ursula is born and dies many times throughout the novel, it never feels repetitive. She doesn’t exactly remember her previous lives, but there is a sense of subconscious memory that prompts her to respond differently each time. Her family think she’s a little odd, but are otherwise oblivious to Ursula’s frequent reincarnation.

I know it’s early to make statements like this, but I think this might be my favourite book of 2013. I wanted to re-read it as soon as I’d finished. Life After Life reminds me a bit of Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch, partly because of the wartime English setting, but also because I felt the point of both books was not the ending so much as the journey. Atkinson has constructed a complex narrative – we go back and forth many times, yet still feel like we’re moving forwards because of the way Ursula develops as a character.

We all have things we might have done differently if given the opportunity. Here Atkinson extrapolates that feeling to explore how if one person had that chance, she could have changed the course of history.


Edwina Kay is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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