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Life After Life (2013)

by Kate Atkinson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Todd Family (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,0405431,002 (3.97)2 / 923
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, and lets out a lusty wail. 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?… (more)
  1. 257
    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 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. 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.
  8. 20
    Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (sturlington)
    sturlington: These are both interesting contemporary works of speculative fiction that play with time and structure.
  9. 31
    The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (amysisson)
    amysisson: Both books examine decisions and moments that change the course of a life.
  10. 10
    A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (bibliothequaire)
  11. 21
    Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (amysisson)
    amysisson: Both are about the unusual ways in which women may impact the tides of war
  12. 00
    Recursion by Blake Crouch (rstaedter)
    rstaedter: Any explanation would be a spoiler for Crouch's novel.
  13. 11
    Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson (shaunie, KayCliff)
  14. 44
    Blackout by Connie Willis (VenusofUrbino)
  15. 00
    The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt (kiwiflowa)
  16. 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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» See also 923 mentions

English (535)  Dutch (2)  Italian (2)  German (1)  Finnish (1)  Norwegian (1)  French (1)  All languages (543)
Showing 1-5 of 535 (next | show all)
Very intriguing storyline, only a master like Atkinson could pull this off in my mind! ( )
  carolfoisset | Sep 12, 2021 |
I would have liked this better if I could have turned my brain off. Everyone else must be having multiple alternative lives and many people must be trying to change the course of history, even before Ursula is born, right? Or is Ursula just - ugh - special? It would be nice if we were moving toward a perfect history, though. ( )
  doryfish | Aug 20, 2021 |
Slow start for me and thunderous gallop to the end. Reminded me of the Cazalet Chronicles b/c of the English country house before and after the war, getting to know the siblings and generations. What a beautiful vision. And exciting, to see how the circularity is applied.

Spoiler below.

Sylvie's innivation at the end implies that it's not just one unique visionary learning her path but that every person could learn from crises and dead ends and go on to make loving choices. Am weeping, what a sweet story ( )
  Je9 | Aug 10, 2021 |
The book did not live up to my expectations. It did not go to directions I wanted it to take, though it was long the finishing felt a bit rushed. The book was beautifully written but the story was just good. ( )
  Islandmum84 | Jul 28, 2021 |
Life after Life is like Groundhog Day stretched over a half-century rather than compressed in one day. Ursula Todd is born on a snowy day in February 1910 and dies. And is born, and dies. Repeatedly. Not however as another person – this book is not about metempsychosis. Her rebirths are all on the same day, in the same place, and she is given the same name.
After a couple of times, Ursula begins to experience episodes of deja vu. She begins to sense approaching danger and for reasons unknown to herself takes steps to avoid it. After a while, she begins to understand one of her mother’s mantras, “practice makes perfect” as applying to her in a special way. She has to prepare herself, through multiple replays of her life, for one great task that will alter the course of human history.
The task in question involves one of the great what-ifs of history: if someone had known the suffering Hitler would unleash on the world and been able to get close enough to him to kill him before he came to power? The question is never clearly answered, but a hint is that the time she points a gun at him in a Munich café is not her final reincarnation.
At one point, Ursula’s beloved brother Teddy asks her, “What if we had a chance to do it again and again . . . until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” The book doesn’t give an unequivocal answer yes to his question. There is, after all, a lot of suffering and dying along the way. At times, I asked myself if the author were a sadist, given the number of grim fates her protagonist has to endure.
Closer to the mark seemed to be Ursula’s answer to her mother’s fatalistic observation that we all up end dead in the end. Ursula doesn’t deny this (although she has begun to feel that another of her mother’s bromides, “life must go on” is true in a way that her mother doesn’t suspect), but counters that it still matters how we live in the meantime.
Her mother is also given to saying “you only have one life.” It took a while before it struck me that she didn’t phrase it in the usual way, “you only live once.” Whether that one life is lived once or repeatedly, this book reminded me of how precious, fragile, hard and beautiful life is. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 535 (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.

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kate Atkinsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Woolgar, FenellaNarratorsecondary 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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English


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, and lets out a lusty wail. 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?

No library descriptions found.

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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