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Life After Life

by Kate Atkinson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Todd Family (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,7095141,002 (3.98)2 / 903
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. 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 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. 31
    The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (amysisson)
    amysisson: Both books examine decisions and moments that change the course of a life.
  9. 10
    Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (sturlington)
    sturlington: These are both interesting contemporary works of speculative fiction that play with time and structure.
  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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English (503)  Dutch (2)  Italian (2)  German (1)  Finnish (1)  Norwegian (1)  French (1)  All languages (511)
Showing 1-5 of 503 (next | show all)
3.5 starsThis book won second place in the Morning News Tournament of Books for 2014: https://themorningnews.org/tob/2014/ I do love the smallest of details here - like all the items sent to Ursula's dad during the war for Christmas or reading Jane Eyre at the beach or building sandcastles at the beach (maybe I just miss the beach). But I'm at a loss as to why there are so many mis-starts here and Ursula has to keep dying as a child. Is this reader manipulation to see a child die so many times...but don't worry she'll be back? Is this a gimmick? Or at least a way to distinguish this from the leagues of other WWII books? At least it isn't quite as saccharine as I expected. But it is a bit difficult to live these many (certainly miserable) moments with Ursula and then have to do it all over again with little to grasp onto linearly, despite all of the lovely details. This book might have been too much for me to take at this moment (there are also very sad details). I can't say I'm really a fan of seeing a character die over and over again. It's like that one episode of Supernatural that I can't handle, Dean dying over and over again (you know, more than the usual number of deaths.) Wrong reader, wrong time for this, I guess, but the book could have been much worse. The story seems to be a bunch of squares of a quilt left unstitched, and I can see why there might be a purpose to that in this book, but I want a quilt. Also, I might have been spoiled by Tournament books this year. ( )
  booklove2 | Sep 28, 2020 |
If you enjoy books with a clearly defined plot with beginning, middle and end then this is not the book for you. This novel is more like story after story. A deeply imaginative book which carries on in circles making you wonder if the spiral has an endpoint. As each story begins relatively the same the course of events follow a different path or do they? A sense of déjà vu lingers from protagonist to reader. It is not surprising that I find myself going in circles attempting to comment on such an unusual novel. ( )
  marquis784 | Sep 28, 2020 |
This is a very long book, I think it's about 600 pages. The basic premise is of a person who dies then gets reborn over and over again. I think the idea is that every time she gets reborn she manages to step round the death that was waiting for her last time. So with every incarnation we see her life progress step-by-step and as she continues to live so sometimes, those around are do not. The girl herelfs is not aware that she is constantly being reborn.

At times it was getting tedious and somewhat predictable you could sense the next ending before It arrived. About two thirds of the way through this book I was wondering where it was going and had a terrible suspicion that it was going nowhere. As I got closer and closer to the end of the book my suspicions were confirmed, as far as I was concerned it wasn't going anywhere. The ending when it came was a disappointment and I thought it let down the whole premise of the book. It was also inconsistent and that really annoyed me. I cannot give you details without spoiling the end of the book.

It is well written and engaging and ultimately frustrating. Would I recommend it? No probably not. But the way the book was written leads me to believe that this author is very capable and though I have not read anything else by this author The quality of the writing means I would be open to reading something else by this author. ( )
  Ken-Me-Old-Mate | Sep 24, 2020 |
(link goes to an LT page with my review) ( )
  dchaikin | Sep 20, 2020 |
Ursula Todd, born in 1910, undergoes many near-death experiences in her life. Well, actual death in some cases. We cringe as "darkness falls" again and again. But that's not all.

She lives different lives. The same people, in general, enter it, but in different ways. It seems like she is trying out different ways to live the same life, wondering how much is inevitable.

Inventive, yes. I found it a little annoying, though. I really wanted her to live just one life that I could get behind and cheer her through. This stopping and starting again made me seasick and a longing for something more. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 503 (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, 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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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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