Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life asks the question, what if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right.
That back cover blurb (it made me think of Ground Hog Day) almost inspired me to put this book down and walk away. But a recommendation from someone I respect and the inside back cover made me reconsider. The author earned the Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year prize for a previous novel. And she’s a multi best seller writer.
Still I worried, would I be bored? How many times through the same life would I be able to stand?
It turned out to be a very satisfying read. I was never board. Atkinson is inventive without being obviously, painfully clever. I didn’t feel that she was recycling the same story over and over again to get to the interesting part of the next time through.
It doesn’t hurt that Ursula Todd’s life encompasses some of the landmark events of the last century. But Atkinson doesn’t take the easy way around those well-known events. There are no cheap sentiments. Ursula Todd sees the best and the worst of the world. Sometimes participating on the side of good, sometimes on the side of evil.
Despite knowing that Ursula’s wrong choices will never be fully fatal, that she will get another chance to get it right, I was sad each time she made a bad decision and suffered the consequences.
I did wonder if she would ever get all the way through the blitz. There seemed to be an endless supply of ways to die. I have read many books that cover that time in history, seen movies, documentaries. Nothing brought the grim reality to life as well as Life After Life.
I cared about Ursula, wondered each time which detail was going to make this time better or worse, would she get one step closer to the ‘right’ ending.
It did take me a while, 50 pages or so, to really get into the book’s flow. But once I did I couldn’t put it down. Then as I approached the end, I started to deliberately ration my daily page consumption, a sure sign that I didn’t want the book to end.
If you’re thinking of this book as a travelling companion, go with the eBook, 477 pages isn’t airplane friendly even in paperback.