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Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?


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.


What if there were second chance? And third chances? In fact, an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?


Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and the worst of ourselves.


Most of us have experienced déjà vu before. Is it simply the mind playing tricks on us or is it more. Ursula Todd is born in the middle of a snowstorm in 1910. Repeatedly. She lives her life for a while, sometimes without any outstanding events, sometimes finding herself in terrible situations, but always the snow comes back to claim her and everything fades to black.


She is constantly reborn – starting again with the things the same, but always slightly different. As she grows she begins to notice she is different to her siblings. During her lives she begins to realise that her intuition, feelings and sense of déjà vu are not as simple as they appear. Life After Life takes us along with Ursula as she lives her many lives and as she tries to make sense of her purpose she tries to make the lives of others around her better.


The hardback edition of this novel is truly beautiful. The image of a small girl, dressed in the period clothes of the early 20th Century, whilst viewing images of the Blitz, surrounded by snowflakes holds promise of what lies in the pages beneath. Luckily the story itself does not fail to deliver on this promise.


This is story telling at its finest. Kate Atkinson builds the story layer upon layer, subtly adding in details in each of Ursula’s lives so that the story and characters develop and evolve. So much so that when I read this again, and I will, soon, I know that I will find details of the story that I missed on the first reading. In fact my view of the book changed after I had finished it and had time to thing about it more. I had orginially marked it as a 4 star read initially but on reflection felt this had to be increased to 5 stars.


This is a beautifully evocative tale. For each period of Ursula’s life the story feels true to that period in history.  Each page allows you to travel backwards and forwards in time with Ursula. I could vividly imagine the Todd family in the 1910’s for example. The sections of the book dealing with the second world war were particularly engaging. It showed a fascinating insight into the blitz, with the sense of an impending bomb being dropped almost palpable. Even more intriguing was the life where Ursula experienced the bombings in Berlin. It was a fascinating to read about an often overlooked aspect of the Second World War – the experiences of the German population.  Not all of Ursula’s lives are happy. At times I found myself hoping that the snow would come to claim her again given the awfulness of her current situation, so that she could start again afresh.


I have said in reviews before that I rarely give 5 stars to a book. This is not through any snobbish pretensions but simply because I come across so many books I like, I need some way of distinguishing those few books that stand out to me in some particular way. This is one of those books. If you like it half as much as I do you will not be disappointed.