Summary and book reviews of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson

Life After Life
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2013,
    544 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2014,
    560 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

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Book Summary

What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. 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 a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.

Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can - will she?

Darkly comic, startlingly poignant, and utterly original - this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.

Be Ye Men of Valor

November 1930

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 Münchner at leisure—coffee, cake and gossip.

He was at a table at the far end of the room, surrounded by the usual cohorts and toadies. There was a woman she had never seen before—a permed, platinum blonde with heavy makeup—an actress by the look of her. The blond lit a cigarette, making a phallic performance out of it. Everyone knew that he preferred his women demure and whole-some, Bavarian preferably. All those dirndls and knee-socks, God help us.

The table was laden. Bienenstich, Gugelhupf, Käsekuchen. He was eating a slice of Kirschtorte. He loved his cakes. No wonder he looked so pasty, she was ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Ursula Todd gets to live out many different realities, something that's impossible in real life. Though there is an array of possibilities that form Ursula's alternate histories, do you think any and all futures are possible in Ursula's world, or are there certain parameters within which each life is lived?
  2. As time goes on, Ursula learns more about her ability to restart her life—and she often changes course accordingly, but she doesn't always correct things. Why not? Do you think Ursula ever becomes completely conscious of her ability to relive and redo her lives? If so, at what point in the story do you think that happens? And what purpose do you think she sets for herself once she figures it out?
  3. Do people...
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  • award image

    Costa Book Awards
    2013

Reviews

BookBrowse

Reviewing a book with a divided mind is not easy. Do I say that the writing here is of the highest quality, that the settings are vivid? Yes. That even the complex structure and repetition serve a purpose? Yes, again. But will I also be transparent enough to say that the story wearied me, that it began to overwhelm? I must.   (Reviewed by Stacey Brownlie).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

Provocative, entertaining and beautifully written. It's not quite the tour de force that her Case Histories (2004) was, but this latest affords the happy sight of seeing Atkinson stretch out into speculative territory again.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. It's clear that Atkinson's not playing tricks; rather, through Ursula's many lives and the accretion of what T.S. Eliot called "visions and revisions," she's found an inventive way to make both the war's toll and the pull of alternate history, of darkness avoided or diminished, fresh.

Booklist

Starred Review. From her deeply human characters to her comical dialogue to her meticulous plotting, Atkinson is working at the very top of her game.

Library Journal

Atkinson works both large and small, capturing the sweep of history while perfectly rendering the dynamics of Ursula's loving, contentious family: gentle father Hugh, disappointed mother Sylvie, generous sister Pamela, and more . . . Highly recommended.

Author Blurb Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl
Kate Atkinson is a marvel. There aren't enough breathless adjectives to describe Life After Life: Dazzling, witty, moving, joyful, mournful, profound. Wildly inventive, deeply felt. Hilarious. Humane. Simply put: It's one of the best novels I've read this century.

Author Blurb J. Courtney Sullivan
Life After Life is a masterpiece about how even the smallest choices can sometimes change the course of history. It's wise, bittersweet, funny, and unlike anything else you've ever read. Kate Atkinson is one of my all-time favorite novelists, and I believe this is her best book yet.

Reader Reviews
Mal Odious

Life After Life
Kate Atkinson's Life After Life asks the question: What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? Ursula lives and dies repeatedly. Fortunately for Ursula death allows for a "do-over" thus being reborn with an ...   Read More

Lorri

Wow
Wow, wow, wow! Did I mention wow? At first I thought I was going to have trouble with the book, that the moving back and forth in time, between different realities, would be confusing, instead I was absolutely captivated. I let go of trying to track ...   Read More

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The Blitz

St. Paul's Cathedral surrounded by smoke in December 1940A significant and arresting section in the second half of Life After Life occurs during the period of the German bombings of London during World War II known as "The Blitz." This period between September 1940 and May 1941 was a time of fear, destruction and collective British determination. The nickname comes from the German word "Blitzkrieg" meaning "lightning war." The Blitz followed Germany's unsuccessful attempts, between July and September 1940, to weaken or eliminate the Royal Air Force's ability to defend Britain - a period known as the Battle of Britain. During the Blitz, bombing raids instead focused on civilian and industrial targets in London and other cities. It is estimated that over 40,000 civilians were killed, with many more...

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