Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson

The Short Take:

This is the best book I have read this year. A book about a baby/girl/woman who repeatedly dies and then is reborn into some slight variation of her old life might not sound like a brilliant read, but it is.


Set largely in England, between the two great wars, this highly-readable novel basically embraces the concept of the “do over.” If things aren’t going right the first time, you can try, try again. But it is not a book version of the Bill Murray comedy, “Groundhog Day.” Each subsequent life is not necessarily better or worse, they’re just different.

Ursula, the protagonist, has a sense of her previous lives as a child; something her family’s superstitious maid calls second sight, and which her mother categorically refuses to believe. Sometimes Ursula takes actions to change fate, sometimes things just change on their own.

This might sound tedious, but the book is so fascinatingly written, the characters so interesting, and the pain of life during and after the war years so clearly depicted that you are swept up, through, and away.

This is no mere fantasy. It is so much richer than that. At one point, the child Ursula is sent to an psychiatrist who shares with her enlightening doses of philosophy and religion. These themes appear repeatedly throughout the book. Life After Life gives you much to think about and much to enjoy. That’s a double helping of good reading.

A Little Plot:

Born on a snowy night when the doctor can’t get through, Ursula is born strangled by her own umbilical cord. Born on a snowy night that the doctor bravely gets through, the cord is cut and Ursula lives.

This is how the books works. However, you’ll be glad to know that you don’t start with that snowy night each time (even though Ursula does). Instead you work your way through Ursula’s lives, her mistakes, her deaths, her careers, her good and bad choices; up to the point at which she wonders if it’s possible to take an action that could result in saving millions of lives.

For more about Kate Atkinson and her books, click here.

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