Life After Life – Kate Atkinson


I’ve had Started Early, Took My Dog on my TBR list for a while. I bought it after I watched and enjoyed the TV adaptation of the other Jackson Brodie books (“Hello to Jason Isaacs” btw). Somehow or other it was one of those books that never rose to the top of the pile. However when I saw this book was being released – it was by the same author, but was stand-alone and  had an intriguing premise – I thought I’d get it and read it.

Life After Life‘s premise is the idea of living a life over and over until you get it “right”. Ursula Todd was born during a snowstorm in Feb 1910 to a middle-class English couple living in the suburbs of London. In this book we see various “versions” of her life – which sometimes is cut short very soon and sometimes takes us through both the first and second world wars. It’s a bit like the movie Sliding Doors in that whilst we get to see what could have happened if different paths were taken we don’t really know why it’s happening. This is not a fantasy or supernatural book about the process of re-living lives, it’s a book comparing various versions of the same life.

It’s well-written and I did enjoy it but I think my initial impression on finishing it was “is that it?” I suppose I’d let the idea of the premise lead me into thinking that there would be some final payoff, that there would be a version of her life which was clearly “right” and clearly “the best” and so on. And there sort of was and sort of wasn’t. Maybe I just had the wrong idea about what was the “best” and maybe that’s what the book is exploring.

Along the way there’s some great writing and I liked several of the characters. You also get to see them grow and change – several times. I felt slightly sad that her mother – whose POV you tend to follow when Ursula herself is very young – seems to start as a vibrant, interesting woman with her own definite ideas about life and turns into a crotchety, slightly superior and disapproving matron. But again maybe that’s the point.

There’s also a lot of suffering in this book. We go through the wars as I said, more than once and from more than one side and as well there are just the usual vicissitudes of life. Which can make for a tough read (I kept thinking of the title of one of her Brodie novels “When Will There Be Good News?“). Occasionally I felt that none of this suffering mattered anyway because it would be wiped out in the next go around – but that happened less than one might expect which is to the credit of the author.

7/10 – overall a good read, glad to have read it, pleased it’s over.

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About shuggie

My name is Shuggie, Paul or LatePaul depending on where you know me from. I work in computers (databases) and occasionally write about softw
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3 Responses to Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

  1. trudyj65 says:

    I think I found it, overall, much more engaging and fascinating than you did … probably because I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of the different possible lives a person might live, how one apparently random choice might change the whole course of your life (such as when Ursula decides, in one incarnation, to spend some time in Germany, meets the young German man, and ends up living out the war in Berlin rather than in London). I, too, was expecting more of an “ending” — I thought there’d be more payoff for her killing Hitler, but then I realized that if she was going to be shot as a result of that, by definition we could never know what happened as a result, because her story would immediately restart (although we could still have gotten another chapter of that story, from the viewpoint of one of her family members, which would have been interesting). And I did think there was going to be one version of her life that had a final, definitive “end,” where she got to die and didn’t come back again, but then I thought that constantly re-starting was the whole point. And then I thought that the constant rebirths, once you were aware of it, would begin to seem like an eternal punishment, which I guess is why the Buddhists are so keen on Nirvana … so the ending, while not quite what I expected/hoped for, gave me lots of think about.

  2. shuggie says:

    Thanks for the comment.

    I definitely did enjoy it but I guess that I tired a bit toward the end. I was looking for “the version” of her life that was going to bring some sort of resolution, or at least less suffering. I guess you’re right about Nirvana – there comes a point when you want it to stop.

  3. Pingback: Started Early, Took My Dog – Kate Atkinson | Only Mostly Dead

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