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April 2, 2013 / Leslie

Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonLife After Life
by Kate Atkinson

Genre: Historical Fiction / Fantasy
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books
Publish Date: April 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover | 529 pages
Rating: 4 of 5

Publisher’s Synopsis:

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.

My Thoughts:

I loved this book for its cleverness and beautiful writing. Ursula lives and dies many, many times over the course of the novel. Maybe even too many times. Ursula is always born in 1910, and with each rebirth we pick up the story at some point in her life. Sometimes it is years earlier, sometimes it’s near the point where she last died. The time shifting was part of the brilliance of the novel but it also required more than the usual amount of concentration to follow.

The author’s frequent use of The Butterfly Effect, where one small difference such as a fall down the stairs will cause an entirely different chain of events, was clever and inventive. At times Ursula’s lives overlapped. In one part, my favorite, she relives the Blitz in WWII over and over again, each time with a slightly different outcome derived from previous events in that life. Fantastic. Other times her life seemed to drone on and on and I wanted her to die already so we could get to something more interesting.

This is not a story about reincarnation. Ursula is reborn as the same person in the same time period over and over. Then what is it? She does have occasional feelings of déjà vu and in several lives sees a doctor about it but it’s all very vague. The author never addresses the how and the why. That is left up to the reader.

I read a lot of science and speculative fiction. I’m always looking for the explanation. Why is this happening? What is the purpose. Are these parallel universes, all existing at the same time or are they alternate histories, any one of which is what actually happened? Is she caught in a time loop like in Groundhog Day or is she fated to live her life over and over until she gets it right, like in Replay? And if she was fated to live her life again and again until it was right, the ending only left me confused.

It’s difficult to discuss this book without giving away spoilers. It’s complex, multi-layered and thought-provoking. This would make a great choice for a book club and the questions raised could spur a lot of interesting discussions.

In spite of the issues I had with the book, my expectations being a little too high, I did enjoy it a lot and highly recommend reading it. I was expecting speculative fiction and while the author does delve into the science fiction genre, she treats it as a historical novel with a twist.

Source: Review copy.
© 2013 Under My Apple Tree. All rights reserved.



Leave a Comment
  1. Lloyd Russell / Apr 2 2013 10:18 am

    That’s 2 glowing reports in the same day. The other being stacybuckeye. I guess I’ll need to put it on my rapidly growing TBP/TBR list.


  2. BermudaOnion / Apr 2 2013 10:20 am

    I liked this book a lot but wanted some of the how and why.


    • Leslie / Apr 2 2013 10:31 am

      Oh good, it wasn’t just me.


  3. Mary / Apr 2 2013 11:11 am

    My post went up today as well. I quite liked it. I don’t read science or speculative fiction so was unsure of what to expect. It was different from anything I’ve read but I agree – she died a lot! I wouldn’t have been disappointed to have some of the “how and why”- as Kathy said – explained. I guess that’s why I thought it would be a great pick for book groups. I’m glad I read it!


    • Leslie / Apr 2 2013 11:30 am

      This was my first book by Kate Atkinson so I wasn’t sure of her style. I was hoping for a speculative fiction bent but she went mainstream, which explains the lack of an explanation, and probably a wider audience appeal.


  4. therelentlessreader / Apr 2 2013 11:18 am

    This one is making the rounds today. 🙂 I’m very curious about it!


  5. laurelrainsnow / Apr 2 2013 11:32 am

    This one is definitely on my list….I’m currently reading the other book of the same title, and so far, it isn’t grabbing me.

    Your thoughts about this book make me want to read it soon!


  6. Leslie / Apr 2 2013 11:42 am

    One more thing I wanted to mention. This book does not read well in short bursts.I recommend reading big chunks at time to get into the flow… and don’t read it when you are tired. With the benefit of hindsight, that’s what I would do.


  7. Suko / Apr 2 2013 5:32 pm

    Wonderful review! This does sound like it would be best read in large doses, and that it would require solid concentration. I haven’t heard the term “the butterfly effect” in a long while.


  8. Diane@BibliophilebytheSea / Apr 2 2013 8:11 pm

    Would definitely try this one. Like the sound of it.


  9. Leeswammes / Apr 3 2013 10:05 am

    As you can imagine, this sounds really good to me, so I’m glad you loved it. I hope to get a Dutch review copy of the book this summer. Can’t wait!


    • Leslie / Apr 3 2013 10:18 am

      I think you’ll like it. Be patient with the first 100 pages though. it takes a while to get into the flow of the many lives.


  10. stacybuckeye / Apr 12 2013 11:52 pm

    My attention span in fairly short these days, but a friend just sent this to me so I need to tackle it!



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