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Life After Life: A Novel by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life: A Novel (edition 2013)

by Kate Atkinson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,9964761,061 (4)2 / 879
Title:Life After Life: A Novel
Authors:Kate Atkinson
Info:Reagan Arthur Books (2013), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 544 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:adult, fiction

Work details

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

  1. 237
    The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Yells, BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These moving and thought-provoking novels portray characters whose lives are continually disrupted by time shifts -- in Life after Life, the protagonist repeatedly dies and comes back to life, while in The Time Traveler's Wife, the protagonist time-travels involuntarily.… (more)
  2. 100
    Replay by Ken Grimwood (fspyck, BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Life after Life and Replay feature characters who live multiple lives against their wills; the complications of dying and coming back to life form the core of each novel and create moving, sometimes funny, always thought-provoking situations.… (more)
  3. 114
    Case Histories: A Novel by Kate Atkinson (JenMDB)
  4. 61
    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (sturlington)
    sturlington: Both have unusual narrative structures and explore the theme of reincarnation.
  5. 40
    A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (Laura400)
  6. 20
    The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (rstaedter)
    rstaedter: A different concept, but nonetheless also brilliantly written and with the Blitz as backdrop.
  7. 31
    The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (amysisson)
    amysisson: Both books examine decisions and moments that change the course of a life.
  8. 20
    The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (fairyfeller, pan0ramix)
    fairyfeller: Explores the same concept of one person living the same over and over.
  9. 10
    A Tale for the Time Being: A Novel by Ruth Ozeki (bibliothequaire)
  10. 21
    Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (amysisson)
    amysisson: Both are about the unusual ways in which women may impact the tides of war
  11. 00
    The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt (kiwiflowa)
  12. 44
    Blackout by Connie Willis (VenusofUrbino)
  13. 11
    Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson (shaunie, KayCliff)
  14. 00
    Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Similar time in history. A story of 2 sisters during the Second World War.

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English (472)  Dutch (2)  Italian (2)  German (1)  Finnish (1)  Norwegian (1)  French (1)  All languages (480)
Showing 1-5 of 472 (next | show all)
Best book I've read all year! ( )
  Jean_Roberts | Jul 18, 2019 |
Hard getting into it, but utterly worth it. Excellent book, great writing. ( )
  joliek | Jul 15, 2019 |
“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson begins with the birth of Ursula Todd in 1910. Born into an affluent family in the English countryside, Ursula’s life seems destined for comfort and routine. And yet, when Ursula dies, her life resets. Everything suddenly restarts with fresh paths to venture and new decisions to make. But what happens when even small deviations cause much larger repercussions? Atkinson provides food for thought on a variety of philosophical questions as Ursula is born, dies, and is born again.

The novel’s structure is bewildering at the beginning, but becomes easier to navigate as the narrative moves forward. Admittedly, the first ten chapters or so are quite a struggle to endure due to their repetitive nature, but the story picks up the pace considerably once they have passed. These chapters should not be skipped though, as they introduce important symbols and imagery that will appear throughout the rest of the novel. If you’d like a hint, the chapter titles are more than mere decoration.

Since Ursula’s life begins again many times, character often surpasses plot in importance. The omniscient third-person narrator concentrates on more than just Ursula. The Todd family is a large one, and Ursula’s unassuming and pleasant manner attracts people to her, so there is never a lack of characters to appreciate. Following the different timelines closely also encourages readers to observe the different facets of each character’s personality, fueling deeper intimacy. When Ursula dies and time resets, the loss is sometimes overwhelming.

The novel doesn’t move forward in a predictable way. The reader never knows which events will be highlighted in Ursula’s many lives. Sometimes certain moments never appear at all because Ursula makes a different choice and the event never occurs. Huge changes can even be caused by minor variations, like the weather or merely standing in a different spot. The possibility of surprise is riveting.

Fate versus free will is the obvious theme of the novel, but the way in which Atkinson chooses to address it inspires analysis. From time to time, Ursula experiences déjà vu. She may not remember her past lives, but this prophetic sense can be the catalyst for her to make a different decision. If that is the case, can Ursula’s power be useful? If so, if her life always resets upon her death, does making changes have any impact? Is everything she does ultimately futile? That’s for the reader to decide.

Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life is a unique reading experience. How does one cope with the plot starting and ending, then beginning again with a high probability of change? Despite the challenge of following numerous timelines, confusion is a rarity. And even if you do find yourself trying to place a character being reintroduced, does it really matter? Every life is different, and ultimately: “Life wasn’t about becoming, was it? It was about being.” ( )
  Codonnelly | Jun 24, 2019 |
I feel like I should have liked this book more, but it just didn't click for me. Some parts were really hard to get interested in. It is an interesting concept but not sure it was executed cleanly .... or maybe I just didn't quite get it. ( )
  Awill424 | Jun 9, 2019 |
Ursula lives a 20th century life, over and over again - it starts out short, dying at birth, then figuring out how to get past the Spanish flu. The most harrowing parts are during the Blitz. She is accompanied by a swirl of family and friends that are sometimes hard to keep track of. It's intense and fascinating. ( )
  cindywho | May 27, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 472 (next | show all)
I absolutley loved Life After Life. It's so brilliant and existential, and I really responded to all of the 'what ifs' and 'if onlys' that she plays with.
added by Sylak | editStylist [Issue 338], Emily Blunt (Oct 12, 2016)
Atkinson’s juggling a lot at once — and nimbly succeeds in keeping the novel from becoming confusing.
For the other extraordinary thing is that, despite the horrors, this is a warm and humane book. This is partly because the felt sense of life is so powerful and immediate. Whatever the setting, it has been thoroughly imagined. Most of the characters are agreeable. They speak well and often wittily. When, like Ursula’s eldest brother, Maurice, they are not likeable, they are treated in the spirit of comedy. The humour is rich. Once you have adapted yourself to the novel’s daring structure and accepted its premise that life is full of unexplored possibilities, the individual passages offer a succession of delights. A family saga? Yes, but a wonderful and rewarding variation on a familiar form.
This is, without doubt, Atkinson’s best novel since her prizewinning debut, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and a serious step forwards to realising her ambition to write a contemporary version of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. A ferociously clever writer, she has recast her interest in mothers and daughters and the seemingly unimportant, quotidian details of life to produce a big, bold novel that is enthralling, entertaining and experimental. It is not perfect – the second half of the book, for example, could have done with one less dead end – but I would be astonished if it does not carry off at least one major prize.
Aficionados of Kate Atkinson's novels – this is the eighth – will tell you that she writes two sorts: the "literary" kind, exemplified by her Whitbread Prize-winning debut Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and the Jackson Brodie crime thrillers. In reality, the distinction is superfluous. Atkinson is a literary writer who likes experimenting with different forms, and her books appeal to a huge audience, full stop. However, for those still keen on these discriminations, Life After Life is one of the "literary" ones. As with the Brodies, Atkinson steers with a light touch, despite the grimness of the subject matter...The novels of Kate Atkinson habitually shuffle past and present, but Life After Life takes the shuffling to such extremes that the reader has to hold on to his hat. It's more than a storytelling device. Ursula and her therapist discuss theories of time. He tells her that it is circular, but she claims that it's a palimpsest. The writer has a further purpose. Elsewhere, Atkinson is quoted as saying: "I'm very interested in the moral path, doing the right thing." It's impossible not to be sympathetic toward Ursula, who yearns to save the people she loves and has been blessed – or cursed – with the ability to do it.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kate Atkinsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Woolgar, FenellaReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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What if some day or night a demon were to steal you after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you:'This life as you now live and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more"...Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him:"You are a god and never have I heard anything so divine.'

Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Everything changes and nothing remains still.

Plato, Cratylus
For Elissa
First words
A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the café.
"It's as if," he said to Ursula, "you walk into a room and your life ends but you keep on living."
"All those names," Teddy said, gazing at the Cenotaph. "All those lives. And now again. I think there is something wrong with the human race. It undermines everything one would like to believe in, don't you think?"

"No point in thinking," she said briskly, "you just have to get on with life." (She really was turning into Miss Woolf.) "We only have one after all, we should try and do our best. We can never get it right, but we must try." (The transformation was complete.)

"What if we had a chance to do it again and again," Teddy said, "until we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?"
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Book description
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 chances? 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 worst of ourselves.
Haiku summary
birth, death, birth again/
mistakes erased, perfected/
can we change the world?
Born again, often
Kinda like a palimpsest
Does that explain life?
Ursula would die
To go on having birthdays
And she does, often

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"What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She 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 towards 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? Darkly comic, startlingly poignant, and utterly original -- this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best"--… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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