TITLE: LIFE AFTER LIFE
AUTHOR: KATE ATKINSON
Life after Life is a library book. I’ve read a couple of Atkinson’s novels (When Will There Be Good News? and Started Early, Took My Dog) and enjoyed them. If I see her name of the shelves I tend to pick her novel off the shelves and read the blurb. I really wanted to read Life after Life when I read the blurb.
BLURB FROM THE COVER
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.
A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the café. She had come in from the rain and drops of water still trembled like delicate dew on the fur coats of some of the women inside. A regiment of white-aproned waiters rushed around at tempo, serving the needs of the Munchner at leisure – coffee, cake and gossip.
I was hooked on Life after Life from the memorable, short opening chapter which ends with Ursula pointing a gun at Hitler and pulling the trigger. After such a powerful opening, who wouldn’t want to read on? I loved Life after Life. It the best Atkinson I’ve read so far. Life after Life reminded me in a weird way of the movie Peggy Sue Got Married (I secretly LOVE that movie).
STRUCTURE: There are a lot of time shifts in Life after Life. The novel reminded me a lot of The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The novel is divided into sections that deal with Ursula’s various lives. For the first 200 pages or so each section ends when Ursula dies and Atkinson offers a short chapter set back at the moment of birth with another life about to begin. Atkinson drops this after a couple of hundred pages. I felt the novel flowed even better because these little returns to the start of Ursula’s life slowed the pace down. I didn’t get lost as I read Life after Life or wonder where I was or in which of Ursula’s life. Atkinson does a great job of handling so many time shifts without confusing or disorientating the novel. I loved how Ursula met the same people several times but each version was a little different.
PLACE: Life after Life is set in a few places, most notably Germany and London. Atkinson does a great job of bringing each location to life. A large chunk of the London chapters take place just before, during and after the Second World War. I enjoyed these sections the most. Atkinson brought the horror of war of vivid, memorable life. I felt Atkinson created a very rich, vivid and memorable world in Life after Life.
CHARACTERISATION: The characterisation in Life after Life is spot on. Ursula is the main character and you spend a lot of time inside her head. I felt like I really got to know her. Ursula isn’t completely unaware that she is being reincarnated all the time. She experiences déjà vu when she encounters people she has known in previous lives. She recalls periods of blankness or fugues. There are times when she remembers things from one of her other lives. I thought she was a great character. I was equally impressed by the other characters. They were all real and alive, even the minor ones who cropped up at random during Ursula’s various lives.
PLOT: Life after Life is not particularly original. Time shift / time travel novels aren’t anything new. I’ve read and loved a few recently including The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and 11/22/63 by Stephen King. This is little sub-genre I really enjoy. I like Atkinson’s take on the genre though. Ursula is reincarnated over and over. She had endless second chances to make the right choices. Life after Life is the best take on time shift / time travel I’ve read.
Honour by Elif Shafak (library book)
The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates (own collection)