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.
Life after life is the story of Ursula Todd, given an infinite number of chances to live her life in an epic tale of the 20th century with the dramas of the Todd family at the centre of it.
It’s a story all about ‘what ifs’ as Ursula gets chance after chance to live her life. It’s about how small, seemingly insignificant changes make a world of difference.
Set against the backdrop of both world wars, Ursula is oblivious to the infinite lives she has, the only clues being déjà vu, a feeling of foreboding, a sense of danger, knowing something bad is about to happen.
She suffers multiple deaths; childhood accidents, illness, bombings, murder; her story alters each time affecting not just her but those around her. I loved the idea behind it, however, there isn’t really a resolution or a reason why Ursula keeps living different lives.
The timeline moves back and forth as Ursula lives and lives again with short chapters from the night of her birth signalling the start of another do over in the early stages of the book.
There were some of her lives that I was more invested in than others, I liked the chapters where she kept trying to evade the Spanish flu – taking drastic action in the end. But it was her experiences in the blitz that really drew me in.
Argyle Road almost always being the scene of her death as the bombs fall; stuck in a cellar or crushed by a falling wall. It’s her actions in the life where she survives the Blitz that I invested the most where she volunteers as part of a rescue team and describes the feelings of numbness, horror, and exhaustion.
I’d guess her most interesting life during the war is where she’s in Germany, a married mother as Hitler comes to power. Describing the strange obsession and cultish behaviour adopted at rallies. It’s a perspective from the other side, she is bemused by it and sees first-hand how the people around her – husband included – change.
There is an interesting scenario both at the start and end of the book where she attempts to assassinate Hitler though I’d have liked to have seen more done with this plot and I did think that was what the book was building to. Would Ursula be able to save the world from it’s fate? I’d liked to have read that imagined alternate history and what the consequences of her assassinating Hitler would have been, but it never materialised, though there is a discussion between her and her nephew in the 1960s centred around this and the potential ifs, buts and maybes.
I did like this book, but it wasn’t what I expected. Nothing really happens, it doesn’t build to a resolution, and it is a little long – it’s taken me two weeks finish which is practically unheard of for me.
It’s the characters that made this a great read for me, I completely bought in to the Todd family I loved them. I loved mad Aunt Izzie who’d steam roller her way in and leave a trail of chaos while simultaneously driving Sylvie mad and leaving her brother Hugh exasperated. I loved the bond between Ursula and her sister Pamela and younger brothers Teddy and Jimmy. I liked the fact none of them got along with the Maurice the eldest of the Todd children. I loved reading about their lives at Fox Corner and seeing how they grew and changed as the world around them did.
I liked the fact that in the majority of her lives Ursula never really followed the conventional route, much to Sylvie’s distress. It’s the Todd family that made this a memorable read.
Atkinson has managed to create a family you’ll love and laugh with. It is written beautifully, and she brings to life different time periods and a different way of life with skill. It may not have been entirely what I was expecting, it may have felt a little odd and frustrating in places, but it was still an enjoyable, if long, read.
A solid four stars 🙂
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