Sunday Book Review: Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

life after life by Kate AtkinsonI started reading Life after Life early yesterday evening and finished it this morning – this is a huge clue as to how much I enjoyed this book – I couldn’t put it down! Easy to read and very thought-provoking with characters that really seemed alive.

If you are familiar with the film ‘Sliding Doors’ or even if you use the expression ‘there but for the grace of God go I’, you’ll be entranced with this whole idea of how chance encounters and happenings can change our lives one way or the other. ?Born in 1910, just before Britain changed for ever with the Great War, Ursula is born many times during the novel and the story changes slightly each time. Born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, the versions change from her dying, to the doctor arriving just in time and cutting it, to her mother Sylvia grabbing a scissors and cutting it, to her father pacing up and down outside (he was absent in all other versions). How close death is to life and how a death might change the course of history. What if Hitler had died as a baby? What if he had been killed by Ursula in 1930? Would someone else have had the same reaction and would the path of events have been similar? Who knows but it certainly will make you reflect on your own life.

At times, I found I was really getting into the course of events to find the chapter ended and there was another version of events to get accustomed to but it was very intriguing. The jumping from past to present and back again might be a little confusing. At times, the events weren’t at all ideal and I was relieved to find that there was another version. The character of Ursula could sometimes predict that something was going to happen and her actions would change the course of history, saving lives sometimes. The book focused on the second world war for much of it, Ursula experiencing it in many different ways. In one version, she had married a German and spent time with Hilter and Eva just before war was declared – I have to admit the section with Eva went on a bit and perhaps their length weakened the novel slightly.

In all of the versions, the changes Middle England was experiencing was very evident. Upper middle class rather than aristocratic, Ursula’s family were still able to afford a cook and maids as well as a gardener but the WW2 became a social leveller for the younger generation.

I really enjoyed this book – makes me wonder how different I might be if some things had happened differently and yet in another way, I don’t think I’d be all that different. But what if I had had kids in my 20s or if I hadn’t gone back to college – mind you, these things were inside my own control to an extent. Many of the different versions in the book were due to something that were outside Ursula’s control but there were some events that she had a deliberate hand in altering (because of her ability to sense danger). Ursula’s own personality changed in each version too which was interesting.

It made me think again about how even the children we have could be so different if they were conceived another month or even if another sperm had been a faster swimmer! Given our ancestors, I am continually amazed at how lucky Brian and I are to have two such kind, intelligent, fabulous, caring, handsome children – there was plenty of opportunity there for our genes to provide us with two ugly, stubborn, proud, obnoxious children! ?We brought them out on Friday night to celebrate their good reports, they really were brilliant – both from academic and social points of view. Had a lovely meal with them and they each had 2 pints of club shandy each (fizzy lemonade and orange mixed) which was a huge highlight! Very proud of both of them.

I enjoyed this and would recommend it as a great holiday read. Having had a quick look at other reviews on Amazon, most seemed to love it or hate it. I thought it was a clever plot, well written with good dialogue. ?It certainly made me think about fate!

2 thoughts on “Sunday Book Review: Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

  • Amanda Day

    I read this book this year for a book club and really struggled with it. I liked the writing style very much, and enjoyed the family settings and characters also. However, I found the book made me quite sad and a bit depressed! It just felt like Ursual could not catch a break!!! I often found I was not looking forward to picking it up and carrying on…. but I did finish it because I was hoping for a happy ending (which I didn’t really think we got, just a sense of this was how her life would always go on). So many of her lives had tragic circumstances and very little happiness and hope, poor thing.

    However, most people at the book club loved it and saw many things in it that I did not even get a hint of. They said how Ursula learnt in some way from each life and took it into the next, which I realised only on later reflection. One person felt strongly that the whole plot was really about Teddy and protecting him, which I did not see either. I thought it was a wonderful plot idea… but was slightly long winded and could have done with some ‘up’ moments for Ursula… not easy with looming war I appreciate.

    However, I am glad I read it and would certainly try some Kate Atkinson again. I have heard Behind the Scenes at the Museum is well worth a go 🙂

    • Lorna

      I have another one of her books yet to read, can’t remember which one but I’d also like to read her detective ones.
      I think Life after Life would be a great book to discuss at a bookclub, so many layers. I enjoyed it and read it quite quickly and I’d like to read it again in about six months at a more leisurely pace – and watch out for certain things. I did think the ending with Teddy was a bit exaggerated but yes, Ursula was certainly focused on saving his life from the Spanish influenza – Pammy’s too I thought. Although Maurice and Jimmy didn’t seem to really matter at all.
      I felt the section with Eva went on and on. It was interesting though to see how events and paths can affect us and affect our whole future. When I was reading the Oliphant bit, I forgot there was another ‘universe’ for her and it was with relief that I started reading another version of her life. After Oliphant, nothing could be that bad, even living in Germany during WW2.
      Thanks a mill for your comment Amanda 🙂



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