Life After Lifeby Published 02 Apr 2013
|Life After Life.pdf|
|Publisher||Reagan Arthur Books|
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 is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.
Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can - will she?
"Life After Life" Reviews
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
Ursula Todd is born in a snowstorm in England in 1910 but dies before she can take her first breath. During that same snowstorm she was born again and lives to tell the tale; again and again. Life after Life tells the story of Ursula’s lives, as with each new life she makes small changes that send her on a completely different path.
I feel like I’m the only person on the planet that thought this book was overhyped and over rated. Sure Kate Atkinson has this trippy ability to create this bleak world while still managing to add some wit and compassion but it wasn’t the writing that was at fault. The premise of the book makes it sound really good but let’s face it; it is just Groundhog Day in disguise. The book is clever, but it tries too hard to be clever and it didn’t really turn out the way it should have; for me anyway. This book is getting so many rave reviews, I feel like I am a black sheep just telling people it did not work.
As I said before, there is nothing wrong with the writing; Kate Atkinson has created this lyrical narrative and I did find myself being swept away in the words. I even felt like at times I was reading this book without thinking about what was happening; a few times I had to stop and process before continuing. I almost found myself not noticing a death and Ursula’s life starting again and that could have got me completely lost. I did feel like Kate Atkinson did however overdo the twists and it turned out to be a roundabout way to retell the same story over and over again with different outcomes. This could have worked; and it sounds like it worked for many people but I sadly wasn’t one of them.
I wonder if Kate Atkinson was trying something different and experimental where she could play with the character’s death and life, explore the concept of life’s choices and their consequences but because there were no real penalty to Ursula’s life I wonder if it really worked? Do you ever have déjà vu? (I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen) Life after Life just seems to repeat the same scenes, some readers might gain a sense of familiarity and for me it just felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere.
Life after Life is the kind of book you should probably read in a real cold climate; the snowy, dark and sometimes bleakness of the novel seems to call for it. Maybe read snuggled up on a dark winters night and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today (It’s coooold out there every day. What is this, Miami Beach?). It is just the book that would work better in the cold; though it is never cold here in Townsville, maybe that’s why it didn’t work for me.
I really wanted to enjoy this book; I will try another Kate Atkinson novel because I really think she has a great style. Just so happened Life after Life was not for me and I know people loved this book and will probably complain about this review but at least it was just an excuse to put some Groundhog Day quotes into something. This book has had so many positive reviews so maybe it is just me, if the book sounds like something you’d like then don’t let this review stop you, is it too early for flapjacks?
This review originally appeared on my blog; http://www.knowledgelost.org/book-rev...
Oh dear dear dear dear dear!
Obviously I'm on another planet to all the other reviewers here, but try as I might, I simply had to give up on page 265...and call it a day.
The concept of constant re-births and lives was a good one but sadly, for me,the incidents throughout were so tame and tepid, and the characters that popped into Ursula's lives were so boring, I'm afraid the whole thing was like watching paint dry.
Remember that feeling of rushing to get back to a book to read what happens next? This was the exact opposite - dreaded picking it up, and trying to dredge up some interest in this conglomeration of non-entities!
Having paid £15.99 for this attractive looking hardback, I felt that I had to do the payment justice and at least give it a good try....but just over half way.....enough was enough!!!
If you want to really read a book that does this multi-life premise true justice, then read KEN GRIMWOOD'S book entitled REPLAY.
Now you're talking.
I'm embarrassed to say I didn't really understand this book. I'm a huge Kate Atkinson fan and I think she's one of the most creative writers I've ever read. And I loved the idea of this book: Ursula is born, dies, and is born again, living different -sometimes very different - versions of her life over and over again. One of my problems is that there didn't seem to be any "rules" like there usually are in books about time travel and other magical occurrences. Sometime Ursula seems to remember the past versions of her life, sometimes she seems not to. Sometimes things change drastically, sometimes not so much. I found that confusing and sometimes hard to follow. And the unfortunately at the end I lost track of which life she was in and totally didn't understand what happened! I'm going to have to go read some of the other reviews and see if they can shed any light on it for me!
I'm pretty sure the idea of being forced to live my life over and over again is something plucked from my worst nightmares, but who among us hasn't been at least tempted to dream of it occasionally with a wistful sigh. Please, please, please, just one more chance to live the best moments again and when necessary, to make different choices? But I would imagine if any of us were actually tasked to unravel all the "right" and "wrong" choices from our life and to relive the bad with the good, we'd go screaming into the night like raving banshees.
For what is a perfect life? How many kicks at the can would it take for you to answer that question, if it is indeed answerable at all? Change one thing, change everything, change nothing, change all the good, change all the bad. Round and round and round. It's exhausting just thinking about it. What's the saying? If I only knew then, what I know now...what? What would you do different? And would different choices always translate into better choices?
Ursula is a normal British girl except she's pretty certain she's lived her life before, maybe many, many times. The older she gets, the stronger these feelings of deju vu become, hounding her like ghosts in the night. Her prescience is rarely crystal clear, more like moods or instinct. Do this. Don't do that. Run away. Run toward. Stay still.
Life After Life starts slow and unassuming. The story is teasing, the pacing a dawdling, scenic walk through the English countryside. But from the very first page I was enthralled and little did I realize what a powerful spell Atkinson was casting on my reader brain. Because as you continue to read, the book picks up gravity and speed and texture. Each life after life reinforces the tender bonds you have been working on with each of the characters. Your acquaintance with them is not one brief life, but many, many lives. Like Ursula we are both cursed and blessed with the long view, the big picture. We come to know all the various permutations of death, cruelty, love and loss. We bear witness through two World Wars and how some forces, no matter how forewarned, are unstoppable, greater even than the hand of time.
This is a very English story, and is steeped in pre-1950 historical detail. Not ever having watched an episode of Downton Abbey I'll go out on a limb here and suggest fans of that show will love this novel for its acute sense of time and attention to detail. Atkinson is ruthless in her pursuit for authenticity. This is wartime England, no time to pussyfoot around. This has got to be right, and in her quest I believe she succeeds magnificently. The details are small but glorious, and paint such an intimate portrait you will feel absorbed into Ursula's quiet family life where there are disagreements and births, and jealousies and forgiveness. Yes, there is the rumble of the earth as the German bombs fall during the Blitz, but such terrible moments co-exist with the stark ordinariness of a life lived. Dinners, and picnics, and birthdays and games of cricket, and work, and gardening, and lots and lots of tea.
"Ow!" one of the evacuees squealed beneath the table. "Some bugger just kicked me."...Something cold and wet nosed itself up Ursula's skirt. She hoped very much that it was the nose of one of the dogs and not one of the evacuees.There is whimsy and humor laced throughout this novel and it makes for a beautiful contrast to the more serious components of tragedy and war. Life is a farce after all; if you can't find the humor in it you've been doing it wrong or have missed the point entirely. Atkinson has not missed the point. As readers, we are in capable hands. She has one helluva story to tell you, and trust me, you don't want to miss it.
This knowledge of the ATS girl's background seemed to particularly infuriate Edwina, who was gripping the butter knife in her hand as if she were planning to attack someone with it--Maurice or the ATS girl, or anyone within stabbing distance by the look of it. Ursula wondered how much harm a butter knife could do. Enough she supposed.
This review can also be found at Busty Book Bimbo.
Chances are you’ve already heard about the device Atkinson used to tell this remarkable story. It was February of 1910 when baby Ursula died at birth, but she was granted a narrative do-over. Next time the doctor made it through the snowstorm to sever the umbilical cord that was strangling her. She also got another chance after tumbling from the roof trying to reach a doll her malignant older brother had thrown there. Similar life after death sequences played out after a seaside drowning, the Spanish flu, and various war-time atrocities. Some might call this a gimmick, but that seems too pejorative a term to me. In Atkinson’s capable hands it was a wonderful tool that allowed her to play "what if", to explore subtle changes with far-reaching consequences (though butterflies and chaos were never mentioned), as well as to evaluate moral trade-offs where alternative scenarios improve the lot of some to the detriment of others.
The way I’ve described this so far you might imagine that Punxsutawney Phil and a very resigned Bill Murray would feature at every turn. But it wasn’t really like that. For one thing, the story didn’t always revert back to square one (where the Sonny and Cher equivalent might have been playing on the gramophone). Plus, there were exogenous differences in each scenario, separate from Ursula’s actions. A better analogy might be how we navigate our way through a maze, proceeding until we reach a dead end and backtracking to the point where we can follow a different path. But even that’s not quite right. With the maze, we know where the decision points are. At best, Ursula had dim recollections of previous paths taken – a vague sense of déjà vu. Atkinson scored literary points for the artful abstractions of these foggy memories.
Before I get too carried away with the device, which I suspect had to do with a huge inventory of ready-to-use death scenes Atkinson wanted to employ ;-) , I should mention what I consider to be even better selling points: the story, the characters and the setting. As fans of her Jackson Brodie books will attest, Atkinson is a master of crime drama. She was not about to short-shrift us on plot. Each snippet of Ursula’s life (or, more appropriately, lives) had plenty going on including creative avoidance of paths we knew from before wouldn’t work. Her relationships with men got appreciably better in later iterations once she got past her teenage naivety and some very unwelcome advances. Many of the most poignant storylines derived from the hardship of the setting – England spanning the two world wars. You might imagine that air raids, deprivation, and loss of loved ones would leave little time for character development beyond a collective stiffness of upper lips, but you’d be wrong. Ursula herself was insightful, empathetic, philosophical and poetic. Her family members, including a larger-than-life aunt who struck it big with a children’s book series, had memorable traits as well; all of them recognizably human. Friends and co-workers were given enough personality to be interesting, too. That was even true of the German ones.
Speaking of Germans, there was one in particular that authors of do-overs consistently wish dead. Atkinson was no exception (which I don’t consider a spoiler since it was taken up in the first two pages). It is a fascinating question, even if over-asked. What if he had been killed before he had influence? How many lives would have been spared? What would our culture be like had there been no Holocaust? Or, as Ursula wondered, what if the US had not spent its way out of the Depression during the war and become the dominant purveyor of goods and lifestyles. (Cheeky lady, implying it would be better. But I have to ask: how fast would her food be now? And how much reality would her TV feature?)
I really liked this book. Typically I’m suspicious of devices that quantum physics, even at its strangest, can’t explain. But this one felt right. In a time when life was too easily lost, in a place where the war seeped into too many homes, it seemed appropriate that a work of fiction would offer some therapeutic revamping. All the more so after Atkinson personalized it for us, putting a likable lady with multifold potential in the middle of it all. And if one of the goals of personal development is to choose optimal paths, it’s helpful to see a template where repeated trials over similar circumstances lead to better decisions and an older soul.