Atkinson makes every one of Ursula's lives, as well as the lives of those she touches, feel inestimably precious. Life After Life is a drama of failures and providential rebirths High-concept premise A deft and convincing portrayal of an English family's evolution across two world wars Not only does she bring characters to life with enviable ease, she has an almost offhand knack for vivid scene-setting Her storytelling prowess is on fullest display in a gorgeous and nerve-racking novella-length chapter set during the Blitz It's spellbindingly done.
Revealing and straightforward Originality is the jumping-off point for this especially unique novel, and readers looking for something fresh should take a chance. Readers already in love with Atkinson's novels, and equally besotted with Jackson Brodie, will be just as pleased with the life - the lives - of Ursula Todd. Atkinson not only invites readers in, she also asks them to give up their preconceptions of what a novel should be, and instead accept what a novel can be What impresses me about this flip book of nonstop scenarios - in wartime and peacetime - is not only how absorbing they are, but how brave Atkinson is to have written them.
After all, there really isn't much recent precedent for a major, serious yet playfully experimental novel with a female character at its center. Good for her to have given us one; we needed it She opened her novel outward, letting it breathe unrestricted, all the while creating a strong, inviting draft of something that feels remarkably like life. No writer alive makes for better company on the page-knowing, funny, and prodigally inventive: Ursula is a magnificent creation, but dozens of finely drawn secondary characters her bohemian Aunt Izzie alone would make this book worth reading force her to fight for the spotlight on every page Unflaggingly curious and unfailingly open-minded, Atkinson is like some great snoop, prowling among life's mysteries, turning the commonplace inside out Literary and entertaining all at once, Atkinson is a sophisticated artist who also can keep you up well past bedtime, and that double-barreled talent is on display as never before in Life After Life.
My first reaction upon finishing it was to imitate the unsinkable Ursula and begin all over again. Atkinson combines the cleverness of metafiction with the warmth and detail of period fiction for an end result that is satisfyingly original. By the final chapters, it's clear that Ursula is gaining on something much bigger than any of her lives: a true calling.
Watching that pursuit is frequently heartbreaking and entirely thrilling. This ingenious narrative conceit not only illustrates how seemingly small decisions can affect our lives, it also allows us as readers to inhabit a novelist's creative process Atkinson has crafted a narrative that pushes us to think about our own choices And I was, on, oh, page of the manuscript and still in the s. A Visit from the Goon Squad is one of the more dramatic of that sort.
The rise of the novel comprised of linked stories has seen a boom in popularity. And so it is with Life After Life. While the notion of reincarnation is hardly new in fiction, how it is handled here is far beyond what we have seen before, a real risk-taking. And so effective. Ursula is a very engaging character. Each time she comes back, you want her to stick around. And even when she makes bad choices you will be rooting for her to fix those in the next round.
Her sister Pamela seems as decent a sort as their brother Maurice seems insufferable, maybe a bit too insufferable. I found it to be entirely engaging, and was always sad when Ursula went dark yet again. The book opens with her taking aim at the worst baddie of the 20th century and you will keep hoping she finds her way back to that place and completes the mission. Will she? One of the most riveting and memorable elements in Life After Life is the description of London during the Blitz, on the ground, you-are-there, offering considerable nightmare material, and making it clear just how hardy the survivors must have been, and how fragile the hold on life, whichever iteration a person is in.
The best part of the book, for me. There are many uses of animal references here. Ursula means little bear, The family name, Todd, means Fox. A group of Nazi wives is referred to as a wolf pack. Actual foxes move in and out of the story, residents of Fox Corner, the Todd family home. A German is named Fuchs which also means fox.
There are more. A warden during the Blitz is named Woolf. At one point, Atkinson offers a wink and a nod to readers as her characters discuss time travel questions. There is much consideration here of the role and rights of women in the first half of the 20th century, and the changes in mores that marked the era. The difference between love and gratitude when considering marriage is considered.
The effect of World War I on the nation is noted as well, the loss of a generation of men in the war, and the loss of vast numbers from both genders from the Spanish flu. While florid passages do not characterize the novel, there are some wonderful descriptions.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: review
Against the backdrop of black night the fires that had been started burned in a huge variety of colors—scarlet and gold and orange, indigo and a sickly lemon. Occasionally vivid greens and blues would shoot up where something chemical had caught fire. Savage and strangely magnificent. Yes it is. Now that the task is done, I think I will bring in a glass of juice and have some of these lovely hard sourdough pretzels.
Maybe catch something from the DVR. Always loved these pretzels, except, of course, when bits get stuck going down. Sometimes large bits, uh oh, a very large bit…trying to self-Heimlich, but no go, hitting my head on the edge of the coffee table as I stumble and fall while trying to stand up. Maybe if I can get some liquid in there it will soften it, but the noggin-knock and the inability to get any air makes decision-making a tough go. The link to the second part is at the bottom of this one. View all 45 comments. I'm pretty sure the idea of being forced to live my life over and over again is something plucked from my worst nightmares, but who among us hasn't been at least tempted to dream of it occasionally with a wistful sigh.
Please, please, please, just one more chance to live the best moments again and when necessary, to make different choices? But I would imagine if any of us were actually tasked to unravel all the "right" and "wrong" choices from our life and to relive the bad with the good, we'd g I'm pretty sure the idea of being forced to live my life over and over again is something plucked from my worst nightmares, but who among us hasn't been at least tempted to dream of it occasionally with a wistful sigh.
But I would imagine if any of us were actually tasked to unravel all the "right" and "wrong" choices from our life and to relive the bad with the good, we'd go screaming into the night like raving banshees. For what is a perfect life? How many kicks at the can would it take for you to answer that question, if it is indeed answerable at all? Change one thing, change everything, change nothing, change all the good, change all the bad. Round and round and round. It's exhausting just thinking about it. What's the saying? If I only knew then, what I know now What would you do different?
And would different choices always translate into better choices? Ursula is a normal British girl except she's pretty certain she's lived her life before, maybe many, many times. The older she gets, the stronger these feelings of deju vu become, hounding her like ghosts in the night. Her prescience is rarely crystal clear, more like moods or instinct. Do this. Don't do that. Run away. Run toward. Stay still. Life After Life starts slow and unassuming.
The story is teasing, the pacing a dawdling, scenic walk through the English countryside. But from the very first page I was enthralled and little did I realize what a powerful spell Atkinson was casting on my reader brain. Because as you continue to read, the book picks up gravity and speed and texture. Each life after life reinforces the tender bonds you have been working on with each of the characters. Your acquaintance with them is not one brief life, but many, many lives. Like Ursula we are both cursed and blessed with the long view, the big picture.
We come to know all the various permutations of death, cruelty, love and loss. We bear witness through two World Wars and how some forces, no matter how forewarned, are unstoppable, greater even than the hand of time. This is a very English story, and is steeped in pre historical detail. Not ever having watched an episode of Downton Abbey I'll go out on a limb here and suggest fans of that show will love this novel for its acute sense of time and attention to detail.
Atkinson is ruthless in her pursuit for authenticity. This is wartime England, no time to pussyfoot around. This has got to be right , and in her quest I believe she succeeds magnificently. The details are small but glorious, and paint such an intimate portrait you will feel absorbed into Ursula's quiet family life where there are disagreements and births, and jealousies and forgiveness. Yes, there is the rumble of the earth as the German bombs fall during the Blitz, but such terrible moments co-exist with the stark ordinariness of a life lived.
Dinners, and picnics, and birthdays and games of cricket, and work, and gardening, and lots and lots of tea. Something cold and wet nosed itself up Ursula's skirt. She hoped very much that it was the nose of one of the dogs and not one of the evacuees. This knowledge of the ATS girl's background seemed to particularly infuriate Edwina, who was gripping the butter knife in her hand as if she were planning to attack someone with it--Maurice or the ATS girl, or anyone within stabbing distance by the look of it.
Ursula wondered how much harm a butter knife could do. Enough she supposed. There is whimsy and humor laced throughout this novel and it makes for a beautiful contrast to the more serious components of tragedy and war. Life is a farce after all; if you can't find the humor in it you've been doing it wrong or have missed the point entirely.
Atkinson has not missed the point. As readers, we are in capable hands. She has one helluva story to tell you, and trust me, you don't want to miss it. This review can also be found at Busty Book Bimbo. View all 25 comments. Mar 08, Anne rated it really liked it Shelves: , britain , favorites , fiction. So much great writing and characterization. Such an interesting premise and structure. Wonderful use of humor and irony thank you, Teresa throughout.
Remarkable depictions of The Blitz. I want to give this book 5 stars. But I can't. A bit of editing would have helped. It's very difficult to go back over the same territory over and over again and keep it interesting. Atkinson did this amazingly well, tho there were moments of, "oh not this again. No way. It just would not have happened. And Atkinson didn't make me believe that it happened. Yes, Eva Braun had friends, but how did Ursula and Eva meet and how would Ursula have been allowed to visit one of the most heavily guarded places during the war?
These sections lost me; they felt lifeless. My suspension of disbelief became overtaxed. This section reminded me of Woody Allen in his movie Zelig, suddenly and surprisingly showing up in various historical moments. That worked. Perhaps because it was comical. This didn't work because we're actually supposed to believe it. Reading the book was like jumping out of an airplane and enjoying the ride most of it , trusting that the landing will be a good one.
Well, the parachute opened, but very late. The landing was abrupt. I think I still feel concussed. I just closed the book and I'm wondering, "what just happened? Maybe the outcome would be better the second or third or fourth time around. Apr 24, Melissa rated it really liked it Shelves: ah-deadly , she-and-or-they-but-not-he.
Ursula Todd is born in with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. The doctor cuts the cord. Ursula grows to age five, when she almost drowns in the ocean on holiday. A man on the beach saves her. She falls out the window of her house that winter. Could a little event like World War II have anything to do with it? As a book about the life of Ursula Todd, this succeeds brilliantly. Unfortunately, once this book tries to figure out what it all means, it gets a little muddled. In she kills Hitler.
In her brother is found alive after the war. I need a little distance first. View all 31 comments. May 29, Jason rated it it was ok Shelves: , for-kindle , reviewed , wine-club. Ursula Todd is an English-born nobody. This is not a spoiler, by the way. The assassination occurs on page one. The hundreds of lives it takes for her to get to that point occur on pages two through five hundred twenty-nine. But truthfully, most of the time the modification occurs on its own without her having to do anything at all. And that is what is most bothersome to me, I think besides her dull personality.
It is exhausting to read about a woman dying over and over again only to be reborn right back where she started, and all without seeming to have any input into anything whatsoever. She just goes along with the program, a plastic bag beaten about by the wind. Is she a mother this time around? A spinster? And then you start to realize that who cares. In fact the only time she ever starts to make real decisions is toward the end of the novel after she has lived a ludicrous number of lives, and are we supposed to be at this point rooting for her?
Good grief. Also, the character interactions, which is something I usually enjoy in novels, is pretty nonexistent here. Reading this book ultimately became tiresome to me, which is not really how you want your reading experience to go. View all 41 comments. Jul 13, Fabian rated it really liked it. But no problem. It is optimistic in the face of oblivion.
View all 7 comments. Dec 06, Melissa rated it it was ok Shelves: , wwii. I'm embarrassed to say I didn't really understand this book. I'm a huge Kate Atkinson fan and I think she's one of the most creative writers I've ever read. And I loved the idea of this book: Ursula is born, dies, and is born again, living different -sometimes very different - versions of her life over and over again.
One of my problems is that there didn't seem to be any "rules" like there usually are in books about time travel and other magical occurrences. Sometime Ursula seems to remember th I'm embarrassed to say I didn't really understand this book. Sometime Ursula seems to remember the past versions of her life, sometimes she seems not to. Sometimes things change drastically, sometimes not so much. I found that confusing and sometimes hard to follow. And the unfortunately at the end I lost track of which life she was in and totally didn't understand what happened!
I'm going to have to go read some of the other reviews and see if they can shed any light on it for me! View all 38 comments. Shelves: historical-fiction , Wouldn't that be wonderful? And how sad it is to think that I might have passed this novel over and never known these characters and relationships. It often seems like I am the only person in the world who hasn't watched Downton Abbey definitely the only Brit who hasn't but the favourable comparisons I keep seeing between the show and this book make me want to drop everything and go watch it.
I imagine it has similarities. All the drama of wartime England combined with a soft, often quiet story about family life and just So many people come and go in this novel, but each one is lovingly-crafted and leaves their own personal mark. I adore it when authors do this - and so few do - when they make sure every single character becomes a human being with a life and personality beyond pushing the plot in a certain direction. The story centres around Ursula Todd who is born one snowy night in and dies that night from strangling on her own umbilical cord.
On that same night in , Ursula is born and lives. What follows is a strange life full of many deaths that were, at the same time, also avoided. Somehow, in the hands of this extremely talented writer, a concept as trite as second chances becomes original, beautiful and so so moving. I would not sell this as a fast-paced adventure; it's pacing is relatively slow and it takes a while for the reader to realise that this book has far more depth than they first imagined.
It bobs along at a steady pace, full of dazzling wit, humour and charm. It has an unmistakable old-fashioned Englishness about it - all tea time and "goodness gracious" - which works very well with the time and setting. But still, it was far from boring. It is too charming and well-written to be boring, and I could hardly put it down once I became absorbed in the characters' stories which didn't take long at all. This novel seems to gather layers as it goes. One minute you're sipping tea and enjoying the relationship dynamics, and the next you suddenly look back and realise that this quiet little wartime story has become steeped in philosophical detail, without seeming pretentious or too try-hard.
Such a wonderful read and highly recommended. View all 32 comments. Mar 05, Steve rated it it was amazing. It was February of when baby Ursula died at birth, but she was granted a narrative do-over. Next time the doctor made it through the snowstorm to sever the umbilical cord that was strangling her. She also got another chance after tumbling from the roof trying to reach a doll her malignant older brother had thrown there. Similar life after death sequences played out after a seaside drowning, the Spanish flu, and various war-time atrocities.
Some might call this a gimmick, but that seems too pejorative a term to me. A better analogy might be how we navigate our way through a maze, proceeding until we reach a dead end and backtracking to the point where we can follow a different path. With the maze, we know where the decision points are.
Atkinson scored literary points for the artful abstractions of these foggy memories. Before I get too carried away with the device, which I suspect had to do with a huge inventory of ready-to-use death scenes Atkinson wanted to employ ;- , I should mention what I consider to be even better selling points: the story, the characters and the setting. As fans of her Jackson Brodie books will attest, Atkinson is a master of crime drama.
She was not about to short-shrift us on plot. Her relationships with men got appreciably better in later iterations once she got past her teenage naivety and some very unwelcome advances. Many of the most poignant storylines derived from the hardship of the setting — England spanning the two world wars. Ursula herself was insightful, empathetic, philosophical and poetic. Friends and co-workers were given enough personality to be interesting, too.
That was even true of the German ones. Speaking of Germans, there was one in particular that authors of do-overs consistently wish dead. It is a fascinating question, even if over-asked. What if he had been killed before he had influence? How many lives would have been spared? What would our culture be like had there been no Holocaust? Or, as Ursula wondered, what if the US had not spent its way out of the Depression during the war and become the dominant purveyor of goods and lifestyles.
Cheeky lady, implying it would be better. But I have to ask: how fast would her food be now? And how much reality would her TV feature? I really liked this book. But this one felt right. In a time when life was too easily lost, in a place where the war seeped into too many homes, it seemed appropriate that a work of fiction would offer some therapeutic revamping. All the more so after Atkinson personalized it for us, putting a likable lady with multifold potential in the middle of it all.
View all 74 comments. Feb 28, switterbug Betsey rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorite-books-i-have-reviewed , booker-material , favorites. The snake devouring its tail is an ancient symbol of wholeness, infinity, renewal, and eternal return. It symbolizes the cyclic nature of the universe, creation out of destruction, life after death.
Likewise, the famous Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, advanced the concept of the Shadow self, the parts of your self that are hidden from society. The process of becoming whole, psychically, is to integrate the unconscious Shadow and conscious selves, through deep meditation, dreams, or long journey The snake devouring its tail is an ancient symbol of wholeness, infinity, renewal, and eternal return.
The process of becoming whole, psychically, is to integrate the unconscious Shadow and conscious selves, through deep meditation, dreams, or long journeys that build awareness. If this seems too much of an academic introduction to the brilliantly epochal novel by Kate Atkinson, it is also a reference to the finely calibrated structure and themes of life Atkinson time travels her narrative back to Feb 11, , repeatedly, so that her protagonist, Ursula Todd, can return again and again to rebirth and renewal.
Right from the beginning, Ursula dies quickly after birth. Then she returns. Dies rather quickly again. In subsequent lives, she may take longer to die. But through each of these lives, we learn a lot more about Ursula.
And, so does Ursula learn more about herself. For example, after a tragedy in one life, Ursula tends to feel a sense of something, or a chill, when the tragedy is coming close in the next life, and can often do something to prevent its reocurrence, even though she is not quite sure why she is doing it. Atkinson did it with such holographic clarity that I wondered how it had not been done a thousand times before in literature. There is certainly a purpose to this structure, but it isn't mechanical or expeditious. You may be scratching your head, wondering as you read, but you will settle in before long.
The novel is so dynamic, and initially winsome and subtly tongue-in-cheek , that you feel in the bosom of it, not at arm's length or outside the story. Is it a gimmick?
No, it is the anchor. It doesn't seem segmented or choppy; rather, it all integrates, like Jung's concept. Ursula's darkness penetrates to a metaphysical undertaking, and the reader is side by side with her odyssey. The author captures Ursula's moments of life-to-death-to-life enchantingly, yet poignantly, and the cycles nourish the theme of the story. Those in-between moments of life and death pique reader understanding, too. Her frequent returns don't feel repetitive, because Atkinson brings acuity and new observations for the reader to ponder. The darkness enveloped her, a velvet friend.
Snow was in the air, as fine as talcum, as icy as the east wind on a baby's skin The settings s of the novel preside like a primary character, one in which repeated experience manifests deeper understanding. Like Ursula, I am inclined to return, time and again, and let the pages encircle me into the "black bat of darkness" and the snow blazing white of day.
It's like a View all 26 comments. I believe everyone would love a chance to go back and change things in their past. Correct mistakes in order to change their life or their loved ones lives for the better. But changing one thing may only lead to a new problem……then you have to go back, change the first mistake, then the second one, and so on. She is born on a snowy night in February , but since she is born with no doctor present, and with the umbilical cord around her neck she never breaths a breath.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: review - Telegraph
Ursula is born on a snowy night in February ; the doctor makes it in time to save the little girl from nearly straggling on her own umbilical cord. Through it all, Ursula lives many lives and dies many deaths. Each time she is reborn in the same life, same date, same circumstances but each time she has a certain amount of recall from former times around and she is able to make choices to avoid catastrophe…. This book is just beautiful. Painstakingly researched and sublimely written, Life After Life has found a place on my Favorites shelf.
- Data Protection Choices.
- The Third Generation: Fragmented (Part 3)?
- Immunology of the Lymphatic System.
- NPR Choice page.
- Life After Life.
What it was like to live with the threat of being bombed every single night, horrifying. Or what it was like to live under the rule of a crazy man, loving him and worshiping him as the savior of your country only to realize, too late, who he really was. I love this book and this quote that I hate to admit hits a little too close to home. I didn't know it then, but some of my schoolwork from my younger days were palimpsests, manuscripts on which the original writing has been erased to make room for later writing, but where traces of the original writing remain.
Ursula Todd compares her life lives to a palimpsest: she has an apparently infinite number of do-overs of her life. It's kind of like Groundhog Day , except that she starts over at birth each time, and each life ends with her death. She has frequent deja vu exp 2. She has frequent deja vu experiences and some vague memories and forebodings about events from her prior lives, but like the palimpsest, they've mostly been erased and only hazy traces remain.
Ursula also has a lot of very rough lives. I suspect that having her die early and often made the story easier to write. Part of it is that she lived through both world wars in Great Britain, so the post-WWI Spanish flu epidemic and the London Blitz account for a fair number of her deaths, but really she does seem to have an undue amount of extremely bad luck. For a while I amused myself by keeping track of the number of deaths, but eventually I lost count.
At any rate, she dies Because of her vague recollections, she's able to avoid some of the worse events from some of her lives in future lives, but sometimes her lives go into frustrating loops. It takes her about 5 tries to figure out how to avoid dying at age 8 from that influenza epidemic.
Part of my frustration with Life After Life was its repetitive nature. Ursula's birth scene death 1 gets repeated more times than I can count, until I was ready to throw the book against the wall every time I saw the words "11 February " appear in the chapter header. Another problem is that I never really took to any of the characters in the book. Ursula herself is a bit of a sad sack, although she does show a lot of grit and has an admirable determination to avoid the sinkholes from her prior lives.
She has an affair with at least one married man in one of her lives or maybe the same guy in several lives--I was kind of losing track at this point and marries some truly awful guys in other lives. Some of the people in her family are wonderful, but her mother is kind of distant and bitchy and her older brother is a first-class jerk.
The storyline is kind of the same deal: some--very few--enjoyable periods in her life, but those are small islands in an ocean of grimness and outright misery.
The London Blitz seemed to last forever. I'm sure that was realistic, and it was well-written, but it was depressing and rather tedious reading material. Like, say, this, when Ursula is a warden helping to rescue people from bombed buildings: As she crept gingerly forward, Ursula's knee pressed on something soft and supple and she recoiled, banging her head on a broken rafter, sending a shower of dust down. She had once stood on a body, recognized the squashy, meat-like quality of it.
She supposed she had to look, although God knows she didn't want to. She peeled back a layer of wool and then another one as if unwrapping a badly packed parcel or a large, unwieldy cabbage. Eventually a small almost unblemished hand, a small star, revealed itself from the compacted mass. She thought she might have found Emil. She has affairs with a married Admiral, Fred Smith a boy from her youth , and Ralph a nice boy from her German language class.
In some lives, her apartment building collapses and she dies. In others, she joins the Air Raid Precautions department and saves people from collapsing buildings, later dying of old age or maybe a stroke. Like an episode of Lamb Chop , this could be the book that doesn't end. Ursula is born and reborn over and over again. Sometimes she becomes obsessed with her fate and changing the outcome of her life and her family member's lives. But when her brother Teddy dies in a plane crash over Germany in one life, she can't do anything about it, while in another life, Teddy lives, through no intervention of Ursula's.
She realizes that to have a happy life, she has to live and let live and live, and live, and live…. All rights reserved. In England on 11 February that's how they write dates there , Ursula is born… Like an episode of Lamb Chop , this could be the book that doesn't end.