Life After Life

Life After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WARNING: I shall try not to give anything away, but this is a difficult book to review without comments that could be spoilers for some readers.

While this isn’t a perfect book, the difference between 4 and 5 stars for me is that I would read (or listen) to this book again. Maybe even right away. It wasn’t what I expected – girl living life over and over until she gets it “right.” Who is to say what is right? She make choices, she is given a sense of deja vu in the next life and is able to make different choices when that situation comes up again. Sometimes it takes multiple lifetimes to break past a certain point – the Spanish flu epidemic for example. So I expected a final lifetime in which all the right things happen to break the cycle, sort of like the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day. Instead, it turns out to be more like the image of the snake eating its tail, the ouroboros, which is also a symbol of infinity. We end up right back where we started. Or do we?

Philosophically, there is a lot to ponder here. I happen to be someone who believes in reincarnation, and in the idea that maybe we do have a number of parallel lives where our “soul” experiences something like Ursula does – different versions of life according to what choices we make. If we die in one parallel, the lessons get absorbed in the others and life continues, with different threads breaking off and coming back together again over and over. In previous books by Ms. Atkinson, I have commented on her talent for taking multiple plot threads and weaving them together in the end (Case Histories), or taking an event and then spinning off plot threads (One Good Turn). So this is yet another exploration of the same kind of thing. And I think she does it brilliantly.

There is also her magical way with words, with painting scenes and characters. Even with so much built in repetition, I did not lose interest. Something is different each time. How will she avoid getting the flu this time, how will she avoid getting raped, how will she survive the London Blitz?

This is definitely a book to be savored, and a book to be reread.

Book description: On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. Ursula 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 toward 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?

Audiobook narrated by Fenella Woolgar.

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