Book Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath. During a snowstorm in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale. What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact, an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to change the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?
Publisher: Black Swan
Pages: 610 

I need to start this review with an apology as I know that I will not be able to do this book justice, so sorry about that but please do read on as I want everyone to read this book!
My only other experience of Kate Atkinson was reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum for GCSE English literature. I didn't like it. Looking back, I think I was too young to appreciate the wonderful nuances of Kate Atkinson's writing. Sadly this has led me to steering clear of this author ever since; that was until I read the intriguing blurb for Life After Life.

Gillian Flynn is quoted as saying:
"One of the best novels I've read this century."
I have to say that I feel exactly the same way. I am never giving my copy up as I know it is going to be re-read many times.
The protagonist, Ursula Todd, is born again and again on 11th February 1910. She is born into the same family each time but her life varies greatly in each instance. For example, in one she doesn't even make it through the birth; in another she develops into a young woman who assassinates Hitler thus preventing the war; in another she is a down trodden housewife and then we also see her growing up to live in Germany during the war, even finding a place in Hitler's inner sanctum.
Life After Life is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. It took me a good few chapters to get my head round the concept but once I had stopped questioning Ursula's constant rebirth, I was utterly gripped and swept away with the story. The concept though, cannot be ignored and I felt that whilst I was enjoying the story, the idea of reincarnation was constantly buzzing away in the background. I have not read a book for a long time that has given me so much to think about; a book that has made me look and question the choices I have made in my own life, the inevitable What if?
In the author's note at the end of the book, Kate Atkinson said that she had always wanted to write a book about the idea of Hitler not coming to power but she did not want it to be cliched as it so easily could. She said that she wanted to write:
"...something downright trickier, something multi layered and slightly fractal..."
I felt that she went above and beyond that; the book has so many different layers; as a reader it was a delight to be constantly presented with something new even though the book is repetitive in its nature.
There's just so much to talk about with this book, as I said, my review will not do it justice. The aspect that stood out to me was Kate Atkinson's descriptions of the Blitz in London and on the other side, the destruction in Berlin. These descriptions took up a large part of the book and they were exceptional. I thought that Kate Atkinson captured the human aspect of war; the innocent victims caught up in it. Ordinary domestic situations obliterated to extraordinary tragedy.
I cannot urge you to read Life After Life enough, I know that I will discover more and more each time I read it. I think I will be spending the next few months catching up with Kate Atkinson's other books, let me know if you have any particular favourites!


Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Wow. That's quite a premise. I would love the explore the idea of Hitler never coming to power. I don't think I've read any Kate Atkinson before.

Nadia A said...

Dot, I've had this one on my shelf for quite some time. Sounds like I need to pick it up sooner rather than later. I'm thinking I'll read it this fall. Great post!

Dot said...

Holly- I would give her books a go, she's an extremely clever writer, very different.

Nadia- I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did xx

Anonymous said...

Any of her Jackson Brodie novels are excellent.

This book really is a departure from the norm and is wonderful, a book that stays with you for a long time. Though at times I wanted to climb in the novel and stop Ursula from choosing a particular path!

Dot said...

Thanks for the recommendation Jo xx

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