Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary, Mystery & Detective, Suspense, Thrillers, War & Military
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.
A hauntingly compelling wartime historical fiction
The concept of Kate Atkinson’s novel was intriguing to me from the first:
“During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.”
Whether or not you believe in reincarnation, Life After Life makes a hauntingly memorable case for the possibility of second, third, fourth, and more chances at living one’s life.
Over the course of the story, Ursula Todd is born and dies multiple times. Each rebirth and subsequent life carries a touch – a smudge – of memory (or foreshadowing?) from the last go-round. An inexpiable fear when visiting the beach with her family as a five-year-old child. A terror that leads her to push the family’s maid, Bridget, down the stairs in a vain effort to prevent her from visiting Armistice Day celebrations. Bone-chilling terror at the sound of a particular man’s voice. It all seems the same . . . but different, too.
It’s the subtle details that weave in the various incarnations of Ursula Barrisford Todd that really show the masterful nature of Kate Atkinson’s work. The slight bits and pieces that remain buried in Ursula’s memory that change the course of each of her lives; it is, in a word, fascinating to read.
It’s funny, when I finished listening to the novel – read extremely well by narrator Fenella Woolgar – I was slightly ambivalent. I think, now, it was just a reluctance to let go of the story and the Todd family. As I write up my thoughts about Life After Life I realize that it’s not a four-star book, but a five-star book. One I can see myself going back and revisiting often.