I kept picking up Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life every time I was in a book store for years. I’d seen the BBC adaptation of some of her Jackson Brodie stories at one point and for whatever reason felt like I needed to read those first. I don’t know why, as this novel is wholly separate from that detective series. In any case it showed up as a Kindle Deal of the Day a few months ago and I finally pulled the trigger. I’m so glad I did, it’s a marvelous book and I can’t wait to get through my next two book club books so I can check out its sequel.
Life After Life is the story of Ursula Todd, a young Englishwoman who has the unfortunate or lucky, depending on who you’d ask I guess, ability to keep coming back after death and start over. The way most people describe this novel is to compare it to the movie Groundhog Day, if it were not a comedy and took place in the early 20th century in Britain. Ursula is born in February 1910 and dies before taking a breath. She is born again and again, each time dying at a different point in her life and only having a distant feeling of deja vu to help her along in life. While this may sound like a ridiculous premise, it quickly becomes easy to swallow and immerse yourself in her life and wonder what little thing will be Ursula’s downfall, or what is causing this to happen, or will this be the last time she dies?
I really enjoyed this novel. I like the way Atkinson writes and will definitely be checking out the sequel to this novel (from Ursula’s brother Teddy’s point of view I believe). The characters are richly developed, and the language makes it easy to imagine this book as a miniseries. I am always drawn to wartime stories. All the sacrifices people made at that time and how different things are now make it incredibly compelling subject matter for me. Ursula lives through two World Wars (or doesn’t, depending on the timeline). Ursula always seems kind of unusual to her parents; her little feelings and sensations of danger or prescience are unnerving in a child so young. Her mother Sylvie is fascinating and mysterious at the same time. Her attitude toward her children can be cold or extremely doting and she is terrible with forgiveness and judgment. Her attitudes toward her young sister-in-law Izzie are incredibly harsh and unforgiving, especially considering how similar their lives could have been and how often her own daughter confides in Izzie rather than herself. I want to know more about every family member, even Maurice, the eldest Todd child and most insufferable. WHY is he so terrible that Hugh, the patriarch, jokes about Sylvie possibly hiding his true paternity? I’d love to know. Maybe Teddy’s book will tell us. I finished this at nearly 1am the other night and I’m still rehashing plots in my mind; this one sticks with you. I have so many questions! And for those of you who like to have things answered, I should warn you: You won’t have that much luck here.
I can’t really think of anything I disliked about the novel. Well, the very last chapter was a bit confusing so I am now left wondering whether Ursula was successful? Did she come back after that last hurrah? Was the last chapter a summary of those before it or more instances of a new timeline? It’s a bit difficult and I think I should perhaps reread this in the future. I look forward to A God in Ruins soon, perhaps the answers I seek are there.