How strange to spend a whole novel waiting for the main character to die again…
Every time Ursula Todd dies, “darkness falls” and she starts all over again, at her birth. She has vague memories of her previous lives, and is able to use these to avoid making the same mistakes again (for instance, although it takes a few tries, she saves her family from a flu epidemic that would have otherwise killed them all). It’s a really neat idea, but the novel itself varies from depressing to outright dull, and I found myself waiting for her death just to shake things up. Unfortunately, as the novel goes on and on, her deaths get further and further apart, and instead we just see other characters die (usually as a result of WWII, which is the background for most of Ursula’s adult life).
So overall, instead of being an uplifting story about fixing one’s mistakes, it’s just freaking depressing. Ursula’s childhood serves as a reminder of all the ways a child can die — in childbirth, from illness, she drowns once, she falls off a roof. Then, as an adult, she lives through WWII — she dies in bombings, in gas leaks. She also, as an active volunteer in a couple of her lives, watches a lot of other people die — both family and complete strangers (some of them multiple times). It’s just sad. I know war is sad, and horrific things happen during wars, but my god. There’s no let up, no real changes, even when she gets a chance to fix an error or two (especially when she hits adulthood — the errors she corrects and events she avoids as a child were much more satisfactory). Ursula also has a lot of affairs, between all the lives, and they get super confusing to track after a while. The same characters float in and out of each life, and I had trouble remembering which one she was sleeping with this go ’round. The story picks up towards the end, but by then I was just ready to be done already.
Apparently Life After Life has a sequel (how appropriate!), but I have a feeling I’ll be avoiding that one — I don’t think I could take much more.