Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson,

Book cover of Life After Life

Book description

What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?

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…

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Why read it?

11 authors picked Life After Life as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This story is about an upper-middle-class English family who is caught up in the events of WW2. The domestic details are fascinating including the kinds of puddings served. (I love puddings). Where this story differs is that Ursula, the heroine, has to keep reliving parts of her life until she ‘gets it right’. I could not stop thinking about Ursula for a long time. I was so impressed by how the story did not follow any normal pattern but demonstrated the power and flexibility wielded by the author. Kate Atkinson also attached a Pinterest page to her website. The visuals…

From Maureen's list on how magic can change your life.

Amongst my favourite books—in my top twenty perhaps—Life After Life is a sweeping drama that spans both World Wars and centres on Ursula, a girl who grows up in a lively dynamic family, as world events spin around her. The book asks the question what if we could have more than one chance at life? How would the world change if we hadn’t been born? Structurally complex, Life After Life is so well written it draws you along and absorbs you with its wonderful characterization of Ursula and her family, so much so that you fully accept the alternative…

Ursula Todd first dies at birth on Feb. 11, 1910, when a snowstorm in the English countryside delays the doctor. But in this looping story of second chances and altered outcomes, the rule-breaking narrative rewinds, and she survives the birth thanks to the doctor’s timely arrival. A few years later, she dies again. And again and again, only to be each time re-spawned, like a video game player with a vague awareness of the need to make better choices next time. Kate Atkinson’s wildly ambitious novel full of endless failures and rebirths illustrates how small decisions can dramatically affect our…

From Jeff's list on questioning the nature of reality.

A clever, playful, moving novel that is not strictly about civilians in war, but which has their experiences at its heart. It tells and retells the lives of Ursula Todd, whose life begins again each time she dies. In several of these lives Ursula volunteers as an Air Raid Warden in blitzed London, and in another, she (having married unwisely to a German man in the 1930s) tries to keep her daughter alive in a devastated Berlin.  ‘Spanish Flu’ repeatedly devastates Ursula’s family, reminding us that victims of the pandemic were among the dead of war. Atkinson clearly spent time…

From Lucy's list on civilians in war.

The premise of this novel is the variety of different ways that a single life can turn out—assuming it survives its own birth, that is. This isn't initially the case for the main character Ursula Todd who, in the first version of her life at least, is stillborn. Her life repeats itself again and again, however, ending suddenly and then restarting, to unfold with sometimes minor and sometimes major changes. As a writer, I get a headache just imagining the level of planning required to construct such an intricate novel, but Atkinson does it perfectly. The scenes about the Spanish…

Is this book about Time-Travel or Dimension-Jumping? Or about someone who’s freakishly aware of their rebirth into numerous lives? I don’t know— but I do know that it’s a breathtakingly audacious, witty, intelligent, brilliant book.

It recounts the life of Ursula Todd, born in 1910. She then lives, well, Life After Life. Some are very short: she is still-born or drowns as a child. Others, as she seems to cycle through almost every life it is possible for her to have lived, involve considerable suffering. She becomes dimly aware of these numerous lives and learns, to an extent, to…

This is such a clever book. The central premise, of a character who keeps dying and having to start her life again from scratch, is ingenious, but it wouldn’t work if Atkinson weren’t so marvellous at creating the atmosphere of early-mid 20th Century England. I was especially taken by her accounts of the Blitz – they were in my mind when I described the still-unrebuilt bomb sites of 1960s London in my own first novel.

Ursula Todd is born in 1910 — and then dies and is reborn over and over again. Ursula does not wholly understand that she’s had past lives, and yet she is able in later lives to conquer the boy who once raped her, the husband who abused her, and she even aims a gun at Hitler in the hopes of avoiding World War II and saving her younger brother. It made me think I could heal past wounds even if I didn’t get the chance to live through a difficult experience again. 

From Martha's list on historical kick-ass female leads.

A brilliant novel that shows in what directions one life can go — whether by choice or circumstance. In one life she dies as an infant; in others she grows into adulthood, faced with challenges. Her choices can change not only her life, but that of the world. Ms. Atkinson’s description of the Blitz has no match. An unforgettable novel.

Although it starts with a teasing prologue in which the main character, Ursula, prepares to shoot Hitler in a Munich coffee shop in 1930, this novel then goes back to Ursula's birth, or rather her stillbirth, on a snowy night when the midwife fails to reach her mother in time. The narrative continues through a series of dark moments and silly accidents of the kind that most children survive, but some don't. Yet Ursula does both: life after life, in other words. This might sound experimental and complicated, but in Atkinson's hands, it becomes a deeply involving saga of life,…

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