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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
7,4485671,026 (3.97)2 / 941
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. 267
    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. 81
    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (sturlington)
    sturlington: Both have unusual narrative structures and explore the theme of reincarnation.
  4. 114
    Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (JenMDB)
  5. 40
    A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (Laura400)
  6. 30
    Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (sturlington)
    sturlington: These are both interesting contemporary works of speculative fiction that play with time and structure.
  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. 20
    The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (rstaedter)
    rstaedter: A different concept, but nonetheless also brilliantly written and with the Blitz as backdrop.
  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 941 mentions

English (547)  Dutch (3)  Italian (2)  German (1)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (556)
Showing 1-5 of 547 (next | show all)
"What is it Heraclitus says? One cannot step in the same river twice?"
"More or less. I suppose a more accurate way of putting it would be 'You can step in the same river, but the water will always be new.'"

That quotation from a conversation between two characters in Life After Life, pretty much sums up the premise of Kate Atkinson's story. Ursula is someone who gets to step into the same river again and again and see all the different ripples a tiny bit of new water can make. It is a far-fetched premise and one that would be difficult to handle in the hands of a less skilled writer. Atkinson has no problem, however, making the idea take hold and blossom into something palpable and thrilling.

The characters Atkinson creates are full-bodied and riveting. I wanted to see them succeed, I wanted Ursula to get it right, but if I had any complaint at all about the book it would be that it sometimes became too repetitious in revisiting the next life. It would have been hard to have done it at all without repetition however.

This book reminds me of a movie that bounces between the past and the present so frequently that you find yourself straining to keep yourself in the right era, or one in which dream scenes interplay with reality without clear delineations. It takes concentration and just a bit of giving yourself over to the ride. I found it captivating.

I have always lived by the conviction that you should never second-guess the decisions you have made in life. It is impossible to know where the other road would have taken you. It might have been very different in reality than the utopia you can conjure up later. After all, road leads to road, and decisions are things we make daily and sometimes don't even recognize as being important except in retrospect. Perhaps that was what was most appealing for me in this novel, the idea that one small alteration, one missed encounter, and the whole fabric of a life is changed. How much control do we really have? ( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
DNF because reasons. Might try again someday.
  IVLeafClover | Jun 21, 2022 |
loved this book - loved the idea that every little decision makes such a big difference. Loved the writing and the way the story was told. ( )
  kathp | Jun 10, 2022 |
I found this boring. Didn’t like any of the characters. DNF ( )
  dianeham | Jun 5, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 547 (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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Epigraph
What if some day or night a demon were to steal 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
Dedication
For Elissa
First words
A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the café.
Quotations
"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?"
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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?
(kswiggum)
Born again, often
Kinda like a palimpsest
Does that explain life?
(pickupsticks)
Ursula would die
To go on having birthdays
And she does, often
(pickupsticks)

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