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.I love the way that Kate Atkinson tells a story, especially the unusual way she structures her plots. Up to now I have only read her mystery novels featuring Jackson Brodie. Those are not your normal mystery story.
But Life After Life has an even more unusual structure. Ursula, the heroine, lives her life over and over. Sort of like the plot of the film Groundhog Day, but not. At the beginning, it is a challenge for her to even get out of childhood. One mishap after another and the next time she comes back, that one is averted. Sometimes.
Even though I am a fan of this author, I did not know whether I would enjoy this type of novel, and it was a very long book, over 500 pages. But I finally gave in, and I was one of the lucky ones who really enjoyed the story. From what I have seen on Goodreads, there are a lot of readers who love this book and also a goodly number who are repelled by it, or at least think it is bland and insulting. I was happy to fall in the first category.
When I was a child and first learned about reincarnation, I thought that would a nightmare scenario. I did not then, and I would not now, want to relive my childhood or anyone's childhood, whether or not I am aware that it is happening again and again. So I was surprised to enjoy this book so much. I just went along for the ride and was entertained the whole time.
Where I got lost (or disoriented) was in the later parts of the book where larger parts of her life are skipped. Even as I realized this was inevitable, since the book would have been twice as long otherwise, I wanted to know more details. I enjoyed following the members of her family throughout the book and noting the twists and turns the relationships take along the way.
Because Ursula is born in 1910 and the book continues to some point in the 1960s, parts of both World Wars are covered. Through Ursula we experience the Blitz and Germany under Hitler. But what I liked most was the view of roles that women played and how the various lives illustrated the limited opportunities open to them.
The novel had me thinking about the different person we can end up as depending on the choices we make or the choices that are made for us or even the accidental events of our lives. I do like it when an author makes me think and consider.
I know that I will read this book again. Even now I try to remember some of the various lives and how they turned out... or ended. I want to go through all the stages again. And that is one proof for me that it is a very good book.
See other reviews at Clothes in Books and In So Many Words.
Publisher: Back Bay Books, 2014. (Orig. pub. 2013)
Length: 525 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: I purchased my copy.