Friday, July 31, 2015

Life After Life: Kate Atkinson

Summary from Goodreads:
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.

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Publisher:   Back Bay Books, 2014. (Orig. pub. 2013)
Length:      525 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Historical fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.

20 comments:

  1. TracyK: Thanks for an interesting review. I have read but one of Atkinson's book. I found it good but not great.

    I try not to think back on the decisions I could have made differently in life. It can be so destructive to live in the past. I do try to learn from earlier choices.

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    1. Bill, I am happy with the choices I have made, but seeing how some choices led me out here to meet my current husband in Riverside, CA, I wonder what would have happened had I taken a choice that kept me back in Alabama.

      I have read all four of the Jackson Brodie series by Atkinson. I did not like the 2nd one as much as the first one, but books three and four I loved.

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  2. Although it's a rather different book from what she has written before I liked it very much. I have her new one on my Kindle, but haven't read it yet.

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    1. I an interested in the new book too, Mac and Janet, but I will wait awhile on that one. I have a few of her earlier non-mystery fiction to try in the meantime.

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  3. I've heard that this is a really interesting book, Tracy, and I appreciate your review of it. I give authors credit for innovative plots like this one, and the idea of going back, changing things, and thinking back over one's life is definitely 'food for thought.' I like Atkinson's Jackson Brodie novels, 'though I've not read this one yet. Not sure if it'll be for me, but it's good to know you enjoyed it.

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    1. I wasn't sure, either, Margot. A lot of people don't get along with this book at all. But if you can find a way to try it without too much expense, it is worth checking out.

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  4. On the TBR, waiting to be cracked open - thanks TracyK, must get round to it

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    1. I do hope you like it, Sergio. Would love to hear your opinions on it, either way.

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  5. I loved this book. But in my book group about half of them hated it.

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    1. Patti, it is very interesting that this book polarizes people so much. I am glad I heard more praise than negative reactions or I might have put it off longer. I probably would have read it regardless, eventually, just because my experiences with this author have been so good.

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  6. Tracy, I have read about Kate Atkinson though I have not read her novels, and I get the feeling I shouldn't start with this book.

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    1. Prashant, you are probably right about not starting with Life After Life. I can only recommend her crime fiction, since I haven't read the earlier books, but one of the earlier novels might be a good place to start?

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    2. Will do, Tracy. I'm way behind on my own 'First Novels' mission. I will look up Kate Atkinson's first.

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    3. I have heard good things about her first book, Prashant. I hope you find a copy and enjoy it.

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  7. You know, I think I'll start with her Jackson Brodie mysteries. I was tempted to read this one but the reviews have been mixed. Like you mentioned, this is a polarizing novel. In the end, you have to make your own determination which I'm glad you did and I'm glad to see you enjoyed it.

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    1. I am a big fan of the Jackson Brodie series, Keishon. Even the one I like least was still very good.

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  8. Thanks for the shoutout Tracy. As you know, I absolutely loved this book, though it's obvious it's not to everyone's taste, it definitely divides readers.

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    1. The more I think about the book, Moira, the more I want to reread it. Rereading portions of it for this review encouraged that too. But, I have to wait a while.

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  9. You haven't tempted me with this one TBH - which is a good thing!

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    1. This is a long one, Col. So only for those who really like this kind of thing.

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