Saturday, August 31, 2013

Book Review: Life After Life

“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” – Edward Beresford Todd

The quotes that preface Life After Life by Kate Atkinson set the stage for an epic, heart wrenching, beautifully written novel. Seriously, there are a bevy of superlatives I can use here. The book is that good.

Life After Life revolves around Ursula and follows her from birth as she lives, breathes and dies again and again and again. For Ursula, dying is a reboot and her chance to make corrections. At the beginning, this concept is a bit confusing for the reader (and for Ursula, as well) but Atkinson lets you learn and understand the loopy life of Ursula’s just as Ursula learns and understands.

The reader is privy to the many causes and consequences that shape a person’s life and also the different outcomes of change. It’s an amazing way to pose the question, “If you knew then what you know now, what would you change?”

The story begins in 1910 with Ursula’s birth and spans decades. Ursula and her family deal with the many changes that occur during that time in England, the most prominent of which is WWII, which is perhaps the second major character in Life After Life.

In truth, so many changes were happening in Europe, and England had a front row seat in the beginning, then declaring war as Hitler invaded Poland. What I appreciated here is Atkinson’s skill to infuse so much historical fact but it’s done so sneakily the reader is none the wiser. It’s all told as Ursula lives out her lives in various places of Europe. Her experiences and roles are as varied as the imagination. What an amazing ability to give the reader multiple assessments of the same horrible war and all told from the same person so there are no variances of opinion! Ursula is Ursula, through and through no matter where she is and what situation she’s in this lifetime.

My only complaint is one that would spoil the book so I won’t write it. Let’s just say that I wish the book was longer than its 529 pages so we can get a bit more lives out of this brave girl.

Ursula and her story together are unforgettable. I’d like to say that her character was unforgettable on her own, but without her rebirths she would not be as interesting as other characters I’ve read. She definitely has depth and as a reader I empathized with her over and over again but of course, her lives are told repeatedly so I couldn’t get too wrapped up in a good or bad lifetime. There’ll be another.

Atkinson has created a real gem here and I would love to give this book 5 stars, but again, the emotional connection was a bit lacking. Therefore, I am giving Life After Life a very strong 4 stars. Please read this book!

For more on Kate Atkinson, check her website here.

This book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and most retail stores. If you’re lucky, you can score one from your library like I did

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