Life After Life (Kate Atkinson) Review

Published February 12, 2015 by julietstubborn

A video version of this review can be found here.

When I went home for Christmas, my mother had this book out from the library. So I tried to read it over Christmas.

I only managed to get 100 pages into the book before Christmas was over and as it wasn’t a library book I couldn’t commandeer it to read at a later date, but so intrigued was I by the first 100 pages, I bought my own copy to read and having read the whole book? Well if I were recommending the book to you, I would probably say: “It’s strange. Interesting, but strange, but interesting…” I could get stuck in a loop for hours unless you stop me.

“She doesn’t believe in dogs,” Bridget said. “Dogs are hardly an article of faith,” Sylvie said.”

The book follows the multiple lives of Ursula Todd in her quest to Get Life Right. Ursula is born on the 10th February 1910 with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and dies before she takes a breath. Then she is born again, but lives. She drowns in the sea when she is six, then a passerby saves her. She dies of flu in 1918 three times, before she pushes her maid down the stairs in an attempt to stop the maid from going to the armistice celebrations where the maid contracts the flu and passes it to the household. This keeps happening. Ursula gets the chance to live her life over and over until she gets it right.

“’Why is everything an ‘adventure’ with you?’ Sylvie said irritably to Izzie.” ‘Because life is an adventure, of course.’
‘I would say it was more of an endurance race,’ Sylvie said. ‘Or an obstacle course.

The premise of the book is definitely interesting, but the book does get confusing. As Ursula grows, the choices she has grows so the alternate lives grow, and not all of them are explored as much as others.

Some of the lives we see in detail, some we only see one scene, the end scene. So we do not get to see what choices Ursula made to end up in this situation. We can guess, judging from the other choices we do know about, but the book would be a lot more satisfying if we could see the set-up or at least be told which choices led to which end result.

“That was the problem with time travel, of course (apart from the impossibility) – one would always be a Cassandra, spreading doom with one’s foreknowledge of events.”

The writing of the book lends itself to being read quickly, and indeed it makes more sense to read the book quickly as the longer you leave it, the less Ursula’s many lives and many choices seem to make sense.

With the one-scenes that we see of Ursula’s life it does seem as if it were an excuse for the writer to write a scenario without having to explain how the character got there.

The book is worth reading for it’s ambition, but maybe my mum was right to get it out of the library rather than invest ten pounds towards it as I don’t know if I’ll read it again.

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2 comments on “Life After Life (Kate Atkinson) Review

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