Description: On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war. Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can — will she?
Review: Life After Life reminded me a lot of the old children series Choose Your Own Adventure in which it was up to the reader to decide where to take the story. As a child I hated those books because the ending I always chose no matter what either ended abruptly or the main character had died (which now thinking back on it- what does that say about me? Hmm..), but Atkinson thankfully takes a more interesting and ambitious route to explore in her latest novel. Her protagonist, Ursula, makes all the decisions: she can die at birth, or she can flourish and blossom; she can be wealthy, or she can be a fugitive; she can be the victim of rape, or she can choose her sexual destiny.
What makes Life After Life work as an engaging story is that all these possibilities arise, and all take the story in different directions, making us wonder if we would make the same decisions as she knowing the outcomes that has lead up to this critical point. As they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty, but we all know that the choices we make do have consequences some of which we can predict and others we can’t. As you may suspect that all of these possibilities sometimes entwine, near to the point of confusion as characters take up more than one role but that is what’s expected of in alternate realities. Atkinson suggests that all of these lifetime events can be folded up into one lifetime so that all are equally real.
My reactions to Ursula varied which each of her lives. There were times that I admired her for her tenacity, other times where I grew frustrated with her when she making a horrible, obvious mistake. Each life of Ursula added a new layer of complexity to her character and those surrounding her. I really enjoyed getting to know her family from various points of views. I also think I had an advantage in not getting disoriented by the book’s nonlinear storytelling by reading other reviews. I knew when to expect Ursula to die and come back so I was more engaged as to what happened in each lifetime. I grew bored during Ursula’s adolescence but I was immediately sucked right back in to the story during the beginnings of World War II and Ursula’s journey to Nazi Germany. I will be honest and say that the book does become tedious after a while and I’m not sure if it needed to be over 500 pages but I’m glad I stuck with it.
Provocative, entertaining, and beautifully written. Life After Life is a speculative fiction that would be enjoyed by fans of historical fiction and literary fiction alike.
Readalikes: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, The Returned by Jason Mott, for a teen book with a similar tone try Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
Reviewed by: Rummanah