Saturday, 20 April 2013

Life After Life

Life After Life comes with an intriguing premise. A baby is born in a snowy February in 1910. She dies at birth. In the next chapter, she is given another chance and survives; the reader then follows the child, Ursula, as she grows up before, between and during the World Wars, with a unique gift. She can go back and correct her mistakes, dying then starting again.

I've read several reviews of this now, mulling over how my thoughts compare. I was encouraged to pick this up after seeing adverts and reviews for it everywhere. Now having read it, I think my conclusion is that I liked it, but only loved it in parts.

The story is complex and Kate Atkinson's writing is clever and flowing. Metaphors of darkness and light pervade and a real sense of foreboding exists. Some sections are brilliant, such as when Ursula is battling to prevent the death of her, her brother and her maid from Spanish Flu. The repeating and thwarting of her efforts add an almost comic twist. However, some sections I found slightly laboured, such as Ursula's time with Eva Braun and Hitler as the continent inches towards war.

Overall, I think this was a great mind-twisting journey. Throughout the story you question what is real, and even when the worst happens you have hope that Ursula can reset and have a happier life. Characters die and are then brought to life. I also loved the sense of familial love at the heart of the novel, and it helped add grounding and a sense of reality. The character of Ursula changed and adapted as she subconsciously learnt from her errors in her parallel lives. The result is a character you wish the best for, but also she is not the same person from one segment to another. The constant characters of her siblings and parents help anchor the story and attach Ursula to each of her lives.

I do think this is a book worth reading; I suspect it's not worth reading in the way that I did. As the title of this blog suggests, I do most of my reading on my commute. I don't think this is a book designed for this purpose. I often found myself a bit confused when opening at the beginning of my journey and having to flick back a few pages to remind myself. The sense of deja vu which facilitates the central premise just makes the tale a bit confusing when you are reading at the extremities of your day. Perhaps if I'd read it over a weekend it would've been different. Instead, I often found myself a bit disorientated, and at the end I felt I'd been reading Ursula's saga for a very long time.

This is definitely a clever, interesting read; just perhaps not one for the rush hour.

(Available in hardback or Kindle format from Amazon)


  1. I agree it would be a tough book to read on a commute. It does require time and space to really get yourself absorbed in it.

    I was the same and had to keep flicking back initially until I got the feel of the writing then it became obvious as to the way the author was going. It has some wonderfully passages in there especially those during the war and also some rather heart rendering moments too.

    I read this way back in January and had to wait ages to talk about it. Still now, it is a book that I think about and is definitely an award winner in my eyes.

  2. I am considering giving it a re-read over a holiday to try and absorb it a bit better. Some sections were indeed very powerful, and in a way it was like reading interlocking short stories. I have given it lots of thought since finishing and I may well have to write another review after some dwelling time!

    One thing that interests me is the marketing. There are posters for it everywhere and I think it's presented as something of a Time Travellers Wife meets Jodi Picoult...I'm not sure that really does it justice. As you say - I'm definitely expecting to see it at least make a few shortlists!


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