Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, published 2014 by Black Swan (Random House).
Read: October 2014
Genre: Adult Fiction/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Historical/Literary Fiction
Get It Now: Wordery
Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
Well. Where do I begin with this one? I bought this book a few months ago on a whim, and dug it out for Sci-Fi November as I knew there was some form of time-travel involved. What I didn’t know is that this book very much focusses on the events of World War I and II, I usually love books about WWII, so that was a pleasant bonus. I also decided to step out of my comfort zone by reading some literary fiction, and I’ve never been so pleased to leave my little bubble of comfort behind…
Atkinson is a fabulous storyteller. This novel is well-written, humorous, at-times-gruesome, touching, and any other descriptive word you can think of when discussing a great (if slightly more serious) read.
This book was such a pleasant surprise for me! I don’t usually enjoy novels that are so character-driven, but Atkinson weaves plots, story-lines and enjoyable characters together in such a way, that they all begin to feel like old friends, and she also does it while not boring you to tears in the process. There’s an edge to this book, a real-ness mixed with some subtle humour, that keeps you entertained throughout.
The story-line can be quite repetitive as Ursula is “reborn” and the story retold, sometimes with minor changes, and occasionally with more substantial ones. It was reminiscent of the “create your own” adventure stories so many of us loved as children. I can see why this may irritate some readers, but it didn’t bother me much. It did take me quite a while to read though, and I’m not sure how much of it was down to how busy I was, or even the length of the novel. While I would say I enjoyed the pace and the story, it was a lengthy read for me.
I can safely say this book will be kept in my collection and reread in the future, there is so much more to glean from these pages, I’m sure of it! Aside from the writing and story (that I loved), this book also really makes you think – think about how the often subtle and seemingly inconsequential decisions we make can massively impact upon our lives! When a book makes a lasting impression on me, it’s sure to become a favourite.
Towards the end of the book, I was a little confused. I don’t think it’s made clear if the end is the last and “true” life that Ursula lives, or if she continues to be “reborn”, and I’m not 100% sure which story-line her final life follows. I may reread those last few chapters to clarify a few things. I’m really glad I enjoyed a piece of literary fiction so much, it’s often a genre I shy away from for fear it will intimidate me in the same way many of “the classics” do. Overall, I really enjoyed this read, and according to my Goodreads friend list, it seems to be seriously under-appreciated. Life After Life, and Atkinson, deserve much more love.