I’d been lingering for two months on the library waitlist for Kate Atkinson’s new book, so it was with glee that I delved in to this 500+-page thumper.
I went in cold, and was blind-sided by the inventive structure. The novel attempts to answer that unanswerable question: what would you do if you could live your whole life over again? What would you change? How would you try to get it “right?”
You see, Ursula Todd, the novel’s lens and protagonist, can live her life over again, and not just once. This twist ensures that she also dies, over, and over, and over again, so many times that I lost count. She begins again at her birth (though sometimes, mercifully, Atkinson fast-forwards to another precipitous event), and, until she makes it past childhood, her first focus is to avoid the things that carried her off in those years: accident and illness.
Once she successfully navigates into adolescence, Ursula begins to recognize her peculiar form of reincarnation, and starts trying to prevent not only her own death, but those of her family and neighbors, and finally, even greater catastrophes. But she finds that every choice engenders unintended, often dangerous consequences.
I loved this book, not only for its unconventional, even experimental form, but also for its carefully-chosen language and attention to the details of time and place and families. If I had the chance to speak with Ms. Atkinson, I’d ask her how she kept track of the detailed strands of narrative; the continuity across times and lines of plot is striking.
And I’d ask how she decided when to stop the book, when in theory the variations could continue on and on. And I’d ask her if she’d like the chance to live over and over again, or if once is enough. I’m asking myself that question right now.
12 thoughts on “Recommended Reading: Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson”
Great review, although I wasn’t sure whether the changes she made weren’t from some kind of subconscious rather than conscious awareness. I’m still not sure. Anyway, this is absolutely my favorite book of the year. It is entertaining, and yet it makes you think of so many things!
I felt that as she became older the changes were more conscious.
Maybe. I couldn’t make up my mind about it.
Wow, now I’ll definitely need to put this on my must-read list. (I’ve been curious about it ever since it came out.) Just reading your review has the wheels in my head turning. I do love books like that. Thanks for posting this!
You’re welcome! Hope you like it!
I’m glad you liked this. I had been interested by the concept, but now I think I’ll have to try it.
I’ve seen this book around a lot, but haven’t paid much attention to it. Sounds fantastic, though. So much so that this is going to make an awesome Christmas present for someone. Thanks!
You are welcome, and lucky someone!
I’m going to put my name on the list at the library for this one now. It sounds intriguing. Thanks!
Hope you like it!
This is definitely on my reading list for next year. I’m always attracted to books that deal with this subject because it’s not easy to pull it off.
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