Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

Just finished reading Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and absolutely loved it.  It’s such an unusual story and set during a period of history that was very eventful.  The story is based on a middle class family and starts in 1910 moving primarily through both World Wars.  I’m not sure how you would describe the premise.  Is it one of reincarnation.  I’m not sure.  For example Ursula is born on a snowy winter’s night and dies before her life begins.  That would have been a very short novel.  But, no, in the next chapter a different set of circumstances mean that the doctor arrives on time and the baby survives.  In fact we have more than one birth and death set in 1910.  It is an unusual concept and one that continues through the rest of the novel where we are given a scenario that then changes in the next chapter or next.

This may sound like a confusing way to read a story and I will admit it certainly isn’t a linear novel so if you don’t like jumping back and forth in time this may not be for you.  Personally I thought it was brilliant.  It was written in KA’s usual fluent style, her characterisation and world building is second to none and her depiction of family life is as usual excellent.  I can perfectly picture all the key players and I think she does an amazing job of portraying the events that take place.

As mentioned, the main character is Ursula.  Ursula grows up with a strange foreboding or an ability to see into the future – of course this is based on the fact that she has sometimes lived these moments already and usually leads to a very strong feeling within her of deja vu – or in some instances a very pressing need to be in a certain place at a certain time.  Unfortunately this strange ability of Ursula leads others and her mother in particular to think of her as slightly odd and as a consequence in need of therapy!  It’s difficult to quite pin down whether you love Sylvia or not because you do come to read a number of life stories for her (some quite a bit shorter than others!) and so at first it’s difficult to pin down what exactly is her true character.  Having read this though there is a definite ‘true’ story for her – one which won’t become fully evident until the story concludes and one that I found ultimately satisfying.

The other key characters are Izzy, Ursula’s aunt and rather decadent member of the family who dances to her own tune and doesn’t fit in with anyone’s expectations.  Sylvie – the rather disenchanted mother born into a family with greater expectations but whose circumstances changed dramatically upon the death of her own father.  Hugh, Ursula’s father – who is a lovely warm character that you can’t help loving.  Pamela – Sylvie’s sister and down to earth, honest to goodness salt of the earth type.  Maurice, older brother, ambitious and brash.  Teddy – Sylvie’s favourite and in fact family favourite and Jimmy – who only plays a small role.  There are of course plenty of other characters ranging from neighbours to colleagues and not to mention two different husbands for Ursula depending on which life story you’ve read up to!

It certainly is an ambitious novel and includes so many poignant events that it’s something of a feat that the author manages to pull it all together. As I mentioned above we go through WWI and II, the blitz, VE day not to mention travelling through Europe with Ursuala – a tour that culminates with her mixing with the Third Reicht!

Now, even though I did really enjoy this I do have a number of criticisms.  Firstly, I think the whole element where Ursula is involved in company with Eva Braun was probably a bit too much of a stretch and I didn’t particularly enjoy that aspect of the story.  Also, the other thing that may be a turnoff is the fact that you are constantly becoming attached to a character who may suddenly be taken from you – which can become a bit depressing to say the least!  But having said that you do then get to read the alternative storyline or lines which does redress the balance somewhat.  The other thing was there were definitely a couple of unanswered strands.  I don’t want to say too much about them other than ‘who was the mysterious man who Ursula saw with Sylvie’, and the murderer????  Can’t say more but I wanted answers.  I’m sure I’ve just maybe overlooked some clue to both of these though as I raced to the end!

Criticisms over – a great read which I would recommend.

Not sure how to classify this – I’m putting it in to my Once Upon a Time reading event and perhaps somebody else will have a better idea than I have.  Maybe falls into myth with the whole idea of rebirth, premonition.

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16 Responses to “Life after Life by Kate Atkinson”

  1. jessicabookworm

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one I’ve been reading a lot about it around the blogging world. I haven’t read anything by Kate Atkinson but sounds like I should be!

    • lynnsbooks

      I did really enjoy it. She’s a good author and I like her style. This is a new direction for her but I think she did a good job.
      Lynn 😀

  2. nrlymrtl

    I’ve been eyeballing this book for a few months now. I will have to put it on my library list. Great review.

    • lynnsbooks

      I really enjoyed it to be honest, it’s very readable.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Marie

    This sounds so complex and twisty and not my usual cup of tea but in the past I’ve found everything by Kate Atkinson to be so ‘readable’ for want of a better word, it’s just so easy to zip through the pages of her writing. So I will probably pick this up at some point.

    • lynnsbooks

      I really like Kate Atkinson. I’ve read some of her earlier books like Emotionally Weird and Behind the Scenes at the Museum, also, Case Histories. I like her style of writing. This seems a little out of character because it’s a little more fantastical but I really enjoyed it – with the provisos that I put in my post. I hope you like it.
      Lynn 😀

  4. cherylmahoney

    I’m so intrigued…I’ve seen movies that play around with time-line and linear structures and alternate realities…I can’t off-hand think of a book that does this quite like this though. I think I’ll have to check it out, just to see how it all works!

    • lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I suppose it reminds me a little of Sliding Doors – but a bit more complex. It does all come together though and I think she’s great at writing families and family dynamics.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Rachel

    I plan on reading this book next month – it’s my book club pick (it was my turn to choose!). I’m REALLY looking forward to it. Good review. Glad you liked it.

    • lynnsbooks

      I really like Kate Atkinson so I was probably already predisposed – but, I do think it’s a really good book. I had the odd criticism but nothing that would spoil my enjoyment. I hope you enjoy it.
      Lynn 😀

  6. TracyK

    I am glad to see this review. Based on your comments, I am not sure how much I will like the book, but I am sure I will read it just because I love this author’s mysteries. Nice review.

    • lynnsbooks

      I really liked it. I love Kate Atkinson though! Did I come across as not liking it?? In which case, I’m sorry because I really did.
      Lynn 😀

      • TracyK

        No, I could tell you liked it. I just think the premise may not work for me. Someone described it as a version of Groundhog Day, which I loved, but I am not sure would work in a book. My husband is interested also, so one way or the other, I will read it.

      • lynnsbooks

        I hope you do read it. I think it’s well done. I’m not saying I don’t have any criticisms but I think she pulls it off. Plus, yes, it is a bit Groundhog Day but not in the way that each story is repetitive. It’s more like each story has a different ending and you see the way her life would have gone if A or B happened, etc.
        I look forward to your review.
        Lynn 😀

  7. Waffle, waffle, waffle… | Lynn's Book Blog

    […] Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – very intriguing, a sort of Sliding Door story of what ifs. […]

  8. To adapt or not to adapt! | Lynn's Book Blog

    […] Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – would make a great movie with a strange Sliding Doors type feel – but one that continues throughout the life of the main character and ends up in all kinds of situations […]

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