Book Review – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

My first book review on this blog! Full disclosure, I read constantly but don’t usually write about it, so if you have suggestions for things you want to see in my book reviews, please comment, I’d love your help!

Book jacket summary: On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. Ursula 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 toward 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?

Startlingly imaginative, darkly comic, deeply poignant – this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.

My thoughts: I picked this book up because I was so intrigued by the premise. The whole book is about how Ursula keeps dying and being reborn, over and over. The setting was so appropriate for that as well, taking us from 1910 through the second world war. However, I felt like Kate Atkinson could have explored so many more themes with reincarnation than she did. It’s really about Ursula’s life, and the many, many paths it takes, but how so many things stay the same no matter what she does. I got extremely wrapped up in the story, I think I finished the book all in one day, so you could definitely say it was a page-turner.

One of my problems with it was there were so many little plot lines that never get resolved, or even make a second appearance, and this is usually explained because Ursula dies and starts over, but that doesn’t mean the reader isn’t left wondering. Probably my biggest issue was one the author couldn’t really help, and that was that I never got emotionally invested during the story, because I knew that no matter what bad things happened to Ursula, she would just die and start over and they wouldn’t have happened. It’s hard to have high stakes when your main character has “seemingly infinite” lives.

To answer some of the questions I had while reading the book, yes, each time Ursula dies she has to live out a whole other life. This life stays the same until she gets to the time when she died in the past life, and then she makes a different decision due to a “sense of dread” and keeps living. This happens until she turns 16, when she starts making different choices each time and her whole life changes. Does Ursula know about her past lives? Sort of. She doesn’t remember each life, so it’s like each life is her first one, except for her “sense of dread” and the innumerable times she gets deja vu. Little else about the actual act of her reincarnation is discussed during the book. This book could be incredibly confusing, what with all the different timelines, but Kate Atkinson does a good job separating things to keep them clear for the reader. I also loved reading about all the different ways someone can die, because Ursula rarely dies in the same way twice.

*mild spoilers* I felt like the end of the book was a bit lackluster, not really in keeping with the fast pace of the rest of it. You’re left wondering if Ursula will ever stop being reborn. The very last pages are also about a character that has nothing to do with the rest of the story, and I couldn’t figure out her purpose in being there or what the author wanted to tell you about the character. Still, the few problems I mentioned didn’t greatly lessen my overall enjoyment of the story, and I felt like all of the adjectives mentioned on the book jacket, including dazzling, witty, moving, profound and wildly inventive, certainly applied.

Favorite quote: “It was a long time ago now. And it was yesterday.”


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