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Life After Life

by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Apr 2013, 544 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2014, 560 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

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Cloggie Downunder (01/04/16)

Another brilliant offering from this exceptional author
Life After Life is a book of the Todd Family by award-winning British author, Kate Atkinson. Ursula Todd is born during a snowstorm on the night of 11th February, 1910. She does this again and again, and this fact (amongst others) remains constant throughout the telling of Ursula’s lives, but, of course, there are also differences.

When, seemingly through chance, she does survive her birth, and the trials and potentially fatal mishaps that plague her childhood, Ursula’s lives revolve around the family that inhabits Fox Corner, parents, siblings, a rather wild paternal aunt who visits, neighbours and friends.

As an adult, Ursula’s life, along with those around her, is profoundly affected by war. Her favourite brother, Teddy loses his life when he is shot down over Berlin. But is there something she can do to stop seemingly inevitable events from occurring?

What a talented author Kate Atkinson is! She explores the idea that one might be able to change history, given enough chances, and does so in a familiar setting, with characters that easily find their way into the reader’s heart (well, except for Maurice, that is). Add to that the interesting perspectives of certain well-known events: the London Blitz from the perspective of an Air Raid Precautions warden; the bombing of Berlin from the point of view of the German common people.

Atkinson’s depth of research is apparent in every chapter. Each of Ursula’s incarnations reveals a little more of the family, their history and character, as well as historic events like the influenza epidemic of 1918. From a literary perspective, the use of multiple incarnations is a novel device that allows her to try out a multitude of different life events with just one character.

While this is nothing like her Jackson Brodie books, fans of her work will not be disappointed. Luckily, they will be able to extend the pleasure (and get another dose of the Todd family and Fox Corner) in the companion volume, A god In Ruins. Another brilliant offering from this exceptional author.
Mal Odious (09/15/13)

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 opportunity to do it over and over until the desired outcome is achieved. The setting takes us to the years leading to WWII will Ursula be able to change history?

I'm not sure if this was a hit or a miss for me. There were times I enjoyed the story, more times I had to push myself to continue. With Atkinson being the author I forged ahead remaining optimistic and tenacious despite the monotony. I am tiring of so many stories having the plot based on interchanging time periods, overdone and unoriginal, also a few scenarios were a bit far fetched. The saving grace for this storyline was Ursula's continuous deaths - definitely adding a unique twist to the alternating time periods.

Although it possesses a uniqueness I can't say it is worthy of all the attention it has received. Tastes vary and yours might differ from mine. Read Life After Life and decide for yourself.
Lorri (02/05/13)

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 narrative threads and found that it all made sense and didn't at the same time. You should leave the novel a bit turned around, you should leave the novel wondering.

All of the characters are fully realized and vibrant. The narrative is plotted in such a way that regardless of where you are in time, you read anxiously through to the end of each chapter wondering what will happen next, increasingly anxious as the novel progresses because you have become familiar with the characters, the setting, the set-up. It is all both familiar and strange. You have become like Ursula in a way, you know something bad may happen but you don't know what; you feel the sinister atmosphere. Unlike Ursula, you can only watch, not act.

This novel was brilliant.

I should also point out that I read an e-galley, and while I am not always a fan of reading on my electronic devices, I think this actually helped me because I could not easily flip back and forth between sections. I think if I had been able to it would have disrupted much of the narrative"magic" for me. My advice? Read it once through without flipping back and forth. Let the story take you where it wants you to go. If you want to truly puzzle it out, save it for the second reading--because you WILL want to read it again.
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