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Book Review: Life after life by Kate Atkinson

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 🙂

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

22 thoughts on “Book Review: Life after life by Kate Atkinson Leave a comment

  1. Looks like a really amazing read! It reminds me of the movie ‘The Edge of Tomorrow’.
    I like your review style where you present both sides of the coin and not just praise the book! I am glad I found your blog and can’t help following!😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Given that she gets to lives multiple versions of herself along the same time line, did they actually play out a story where she lived an identical life more than once? Because if she doesn’t remember the other versions of the life she lived, then it’s highly likely she’d make the exact same decisions again

    Liked by 1 person

    • No not really, it was more snapshots in her lives, if that makes sense. The only thing she felt was an overwhelming feeling of something bad is going to happen and I need to do something. I did expect a moment of realisation at some point, I kinda liked the fact it didn’t come. I really enjoyed it but it was a little peculiar

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve only tried to read Kate twice and failed to like the writing, which is really annoying, because I want to. I find the ‘in brackets’ comments irritating and a bit clever – it makes me pop out of the story every time, like Kate is too close. Will this book change my mind? Love to hear from you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure to be honest, I liked her writing but can’t say I absolutely loved this book, I enjoyed it but it kind of annoyed me that there wasn’t much of point if you know what I mean


      • I do know. Did I already say how much I loved Sorrow and Bliss? And before that Mary Lawson’s new one – a Town called Solace? I just can’t read a book without a point any more. Did you love A little life? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a light read too, but there still has to be a point.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. What-if stories have something charming about them! Life after Life reminds me of The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – it is also about the different lives of a woman, each life being documented in the Midnight Library 🙂
    Well, dear Life after Life … welcome to my TBR!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi Sarah. I ve never really enjoyed Kate’s writing. I can’t bear the bracketed asides which I find are the author saying, aren’t I clever. I ve trued a few because I want to like her writing – so many people do! Shall I try this one? Are there loads of brackets?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Sarah. I ve just finished ‘I couldn’t love you more.’ Loved it! You mentioned another one but I can’t find the thread. ….


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