Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

Strange book. It leaves me puzzled about how and what to write for a review. First of all, I'm a fan of Kate Atkinson, and have read all her previous works, even though I consider her to be one of the most frustrating writers I've ever read.
Here's the premise:  Ursula Todd is born on a snowy night in February 1910.  She only lives to be five, dies and then is born again in February 1910.  This time she lives longer, then dies, is born again, and again, and again.  If you've ever seen the movie "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray, you get the picture.

 There are a list of reasons why I shouldn't like this book or give it a very high rating:
  • I'm not a fan of time travel and the time travel in this one is mind-boggling.
  • I'm not a fan of fantasy and the fantasmagorical endings Atkinson dreams up here and there are mind-boggling.
  • I'm so tired of books about Nazi Germany.
  • I tried to do this one in audio and it DOES NOT WORK.
  • The repetitiveness gets boring, confusing, and frustrating.
That said...........there is another list of why it's so good:
  • Somehow Atkinson makes all the fantasy and time travel work.
  • The historical facts woven into the fiction are fascinating.
  • The dialogue is crisp, believable and flows naturally.
  • The characters are engaging, believable and well-drawn.
  • The live/die/born again/start over again rhythm eventually settles down in the reader's mind.
  • Just when you think you know what's going to happen, it doesn't, and something else completely new happens.

Once I decided to give up the audio and read the book, or at least have a print copy to help me mark my place, and once I caught onto how it was constructed and what the author was trying to do, I was hooked.  Ursula goes through life experiencing a broad range of opportunities, triumphs, and tragedies.  Each time she dies, some of the previous lives stay buried in her sub-conscience.  The longer she lives, and the more times she goes through these phases (with different experiences, different people, different places), the more she begins to have "bleed throughs" that help/hinder her onward walk through life.

It's a bizarre premise, it's a strange book, and it can be frustrating to follow (I wanted to plot out all these different lives in a flow chart!), but it works.  I know I'm going to have to read this one at least once more, and I know that after the 2nd (or maybe 3rd) read, I'm going to declare this one of the best books of the year.  It is worth a look, and worth the time because she writes such descriptive scenes, her dialogue is wonderful, and her historical facts are woven into believable scenarios - - as long as they last!

Do try it.  I don't think it's for everyone, but it is certainly a thought-provoking and rewarding experience for anyone who perseveres.

Title: Life After Life
Author: Kate Atkinson
Publisher:Reagan Arthur Books (2013), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 544 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Subject: Time travel
Setting: Europe 1910 -1950
Source: Public library
Why did I read this book now? I heard so much about it.


  1. I'm determined to read this one this summer. I love it when a book I think I won't like works for me too!

  2. think it really sounds a bit too strange for me..


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