You may get a bit dizzy reading Life After Life. Author Kate Atkinson rather intends to take the concept of time and dump it right on its head.
What would you do if you had a do-over in life? Who might you fuck? Who might you kill?
Would you assassinate Hitler if you could?
Life After Life summarized
Our heroine Ursula Todd would, indeed, kill Hitler if she could. That’s the way the book begins, in fact. But she isn’t always so prescient. The learning curve is very long.
Atkinson takes us through many different scenarios of Ursula’s life. In some versions of her life, she dies young, in some she lives in misery, in some she happily dodges the abusive husband or rapist or WWII-era bomb. You may be forgiven if you stopped caring when our heroine dies because you know that she will come back with greater knowledge.
We don’t really know whether Ursula understands that her growing intuition is prescience, but we know that she follows her gut.
I was tempted to write that she follows her gut in the end. But there isn’t really an end to this story. Ursula’s life just begins again and again.
While dizzying in its nonlinear plot, the characters are the anchor and war is the engine. As an anchor, the members of the Todd family do not change, fundamentally, in temperament, though Atkinson does allow a compelling ability for each character to adapt or react to the life events unique to the specific life scenario you are reading.
As an engine, the war looms and rages, humming along through the pages of this novel. Whether our heroine is in London suffering beneath the bombs of the Blitz or whether she is in Germany suffering beneath the terror of the Nazis, the war reigns in every life scenario that we experience with Ursula.
That being said, just as every good engine is crucial for motion but easily forgotten, the war is background for this novel.
The story itself is about life, luck, and the monumental impact of even the smallest decisions.
Who should read Life After Life
If you’re a WWII buff, you’ll enjoy this book. But even if you’re not into WWII or historical fiction, this book is a good read for anybody who enjoys time travel or the idea of parallel universe.
I listened to Life After Life (twice) as an audible book narrated by Fenella Woodgar. The reason that I listened twice is that it’s a bit hard to follow. I recommend it to regular audible book listeners but suggest reading this one with your eyes if you’re an occasional listener.
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One last thought on Life After Life
If you could take a lover from history who would it be? For our main character, it is the poet John Donne. Though she notes that If it weren’t for John Keats’ untimely death, it might have been him.
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