21st Century,  General Fiction

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

As soon as I read Kate Atkinson was publishing a new book in March, I contacted her publicists and almost everyone in her team to get an advanced review copy of Life After Life. I had no idea what the book was about, but I just knew I wanted it and was sure I’d love it. A big thank you to Alison Barrow for sending me the review copy in exchange for my honest review.


From Book Depository:

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, she finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here is Kate Atkinson at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

I already posted a quote related to the main theme of the book a week ago. Actually, the whole book is full of insightful quotes with various references such as literature, history and philosophy. For me, Life After Life is a book full of wisdom, one of those to return to when you are not at a good place in life and every once in a while to remind you what all this is about.

The book’s main character is Ursula Todd, born in rural England on 11th February 1910 and dead almost at birth. Or not. Her birthing scene is repeated until, as the synopsis suggests, she gets it right. I read many reviews at Goodreads that pointed the similarities between Life After Life and The Time Traveler’s Wife. I seriously do not think Ursula is actually travelling in time, her journey is more spiritual and symbolic than that: Aktinson uses Ursula’s life to explore almost every kind of life she could have led having been born an English, middle class female in 1910. As I was reading, I thought of Ursula’s journeys as that of women in the first half of the 20th century. The generational gap between her Edwardian mother, Sylvie, and Ursula is representative of the break and the changes that affected women in the first decades of the past century. From Victorian models and manners and a praise of what is considered traditionally feminine, to the new woman who attends university, votes regarding her age or qualifications and is not necessarily confined at her house, slave to child-bearing and domestic tasks. Such a break is explored, with more possibly tha not, the reader taking sides yet managing to understand the other only due to Atkinson’s ability to write deep, real characters.

The style is typical Atkinson: broken, fragmented and somehow deeply interconnected, so much that it is always the reader who needs to make such connections for they are never obvious or directly spelled. Atkinson’s books demand an engaged reader, willing to do almost half of the work. Life After Life‘s theme demands this fragmented style and mixes both long and very short chapters organized into sections with their own title and defined by the dates they span over.

Life After Life explores the main events of the past century from Ursula’s perspective – that is, as many as possible but always female – from global ones such as the two World Wards to Nazism, to more domestic or personal issues such as rape, abortion, marriage,  domestic violence, adultery and sibling rivalry. Despite the fragmented style and her many lives, it is very easy to become familiar with Ursula and eventually it is very easy to fall in love with her, whatever or whoever she is. She embodies a woman and all women in the past century and one can only but feel both sympathy and pain for their lives. Being a woman was not easy and Atkinson highlights the fact by putting Ursula through all kind of painful – yet incredibly real and possible – scenarios.

I would definitely recommend Life After Life to anyone, Atkinson’s fan or not. This is not a detective story like my beloved Jackson Brodie’s series, but a historically accurate description of a woman who could have lived and how she could have lived. If literature serves a purpose is that of exploring what if and Life After Life is the perfect example of that exercise. No doubt this one will become a classic, even a manual in English Literature or Gender Studies. I will certainly return to Life After Life many times in the future in search for advice, wisdom and Ursula Todd to remind me that what matters is how we get there and what we choose to be.

He was born a politician.

No, Ursula thought, he was born a baby, like everyone else. And this is what he has chosen to become.

Life After Life will be published on 14th March 2013. Be sure to grab your copy!



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