What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?
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.
Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can -- will she?
Darkly comic, startlingly poignant, and utterly original: this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Kate Atkinson’s magical story reads like a grand Edwardian novel reimagined for a video-game generation. One night in 1910 Britain, Ursula Todd is born—and immediately dies. Atkinson returns to the moment of Ursula’s birth over and over, spinning out a different outcome for the sensible-yet-sensitive girl each time. Though some turns of the wheel are positive, the specter of the two world wars always hangs over Ursula’s existence. More than just a clever postmodern experiment, Life After Life is an intensely moving experience, revealing the emotional weight of history through one woman’s story.
Atkinson's new novel (after Started Early, Took My Dog) opens twice: first in Germany in 1930 with an English woman taking a shot at Hitler, then in England in 1910 when a baby arrives, stillborn. And then it opens again: still in 1910, still in England, but this time the baby lives. That baby is Ursula Todd, and as she grows up, she dies and lives repeatedly. Watching Atkinson bring Ursula into the world yet again initially feels like a not terribly interesting trick: we know authors have the power of life and death. But as Ursula and the century age, and war and epidemic and war come again, the fact of death, of "darkness," as Atkinson calls it, falling on cities and people now Ursula, now someone else, now Ursula again turns out to be central. At heart this is a war story; half the book is given over to Ursula's activities during WWII, and in its focus on the women and civilians usually overlooked or downplayed, it gives the Blitz its full measure of terror. By the end, which takes us back to that moment in 1930 and beyond, it's clear that Atkinson's not playing tricks; rather, through Ursula's many lives and the accretion of what T.S. Eliot called "visions and revisions," she's found an inventive way to make both the war's toll and the pull of alternate history, of darkness avoided or diminished, fresh.
This book is a bit of a challenge to review. On one hand the writing is well done, the characters are likable and I love the twists and turns to the story. On the other hand, when the story begins and begins again and again it gets a bit tiring even though there are new details woven in. A bit depressing at times. Overall though I like the book and the plot. Unlike some reviewers I felt the ending was fairly clear. Based on this book I would read another by this author.
This was one of the most interesting and creative books I have ever read. I can not imagine writing one storyline let alone a multitude as the author does with this novel.
The idea of getting to start your life over to set things right is intriguing.
I also thought that the historical aspect of the book was well done, especially the view from the enemy's side.
A thoroughly enjoyable read.
Life after life