What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath. During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.
What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?
Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, she finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here is Kate Atkinson at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.
©2013 Kate Atkinson (P)2013 Random House Audiobooks
Long term book junkie only recently addicted to audio books. Now my iPod and I are inseparable.
Based on the plot summary, I'd have passed over "Life After Life". The idea of being endlessly reborn into the same life sounds too much like the tedium of "Groundhog Day". I've also been avoiding all those World-War-II-Is-Seventy books that want to turn this horrible period of Europe's history into a source of romantic nostalgia.
I bought "Life After Life" because Kate Atkinson wrote it and I've always enjoyed her books.
Even so, I was surprised at just how well written this book is. From the assassination attempt on the first page, the book grabbed my attention and didn't let go. I ended up stealing time so that I could listen to the fourteen hour audiobook over three days. Even then, I wanted it to go on longer.
"Life After Life" follows the many lives of Ursula Todd. They are all the same life, starting on the same day, in the same place, with the same family. The consequences of small differences in circumstances, in decisions made, in meeting kept or missed, ripple through these lives to change them in surprising, and sometimes tragic, ways. Some lives are distressingly short. Some are just distressing. One or two work out reasonably well for Ursula. In all these lives Ursula is Ursula. She has the same abilities and desires but she follows a different path and has to cope with different consequences.
As the lives went on, I became more and more attached to Ursula, wanting the best for her, hoping that her mysterious déja vu would help her avoid the pitfalls of her earlier lives. Slowly, it started to dawn on me that I was missing the point. Each of Ursula's lives is real. None of them is a rehearsal. Her life is not a video game where each replay allows her to get to learn something that will take her to a higher level, her life is an opportunity for her to embrace who she is and do the best she can with what she has. It seemed to me that Kate Atkinson has started with Nietzsche's imperative, "Become who you are" and added a very English middle-class code: "Needs must". Becoming who you are does not free you from the responsibility to do the best you can in the circumstances.
"Life After Life" is much more than a vehicle for a philosophical discussion. The people in it are real. As Ursula's lives pass you learn to care about her family, her friends and the people she works with so that it matters when bad things happen. I found myself in tears many times while reading this book. Kate Atkinson pulls no punches on the bad things that happen and bad things, often the same bad things, happen again and again. The main message seems to be: "Bad things will happen. What choice do you have other than to deal with them?" Or at least, that is the response that consistently makes Ursula, Ursula. Some of the people around constantly seek to avoid the consequences of bad things happening.
One of the main bad things that happens in World War II. There is no nostalgia for plucky Britain, standing alone against the Nazi menace, keeping calm and carrying on. Instead I got the most harrowing descriptions of the Blitz I have ever read. Kate Atkinson manages to convey the scale of the death and destruction, the relentlessness of the bombings, the defenselessness of the people and the personal cost of a "Needs must" approach. I also got to see the impact in Germany and to experience the fear of being in Berlin, knowing that the Russian Army was raping and murdering its way towards you.
The language, both dialogue and description, perfectly evokes the time, place and social class. The depth to which the people and their relationships are imagined and re-imagined is astonishing. I felt as if I knew these people better than the ones I work with every day.
This is a wonderful book. Yet I recommend you do not read it. Listen to it instead. The audiobook is narrated by the actress, Fenella Woolgar. She is the perfect choice for this. Her performance is faultless. She carried me through this book, helping me to focus and to hear the voices of the time.
Yes. A really interesting story line with great characters. Sort of like a choose your own adventure where you can go back and find a better ending, except the author is choosing the new story lines her self, time and time again.
The book thief or The time traveller's wife for its unconventional story line
I read comments about how jumpy the story line was and that put me off a little bit. But you soon get used to it and I actually started looking forward to the story line jumping back in time again. A great novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Every moment described in beautiful detail by Kate Atkinson becomes memorable. I am literally IN the rooms, the gardens, the wars and the hearts of the characters. The story is compelling, funny, poignant and mesmerising.
The novel involves the retelling of stories multiple times so this is tricky to answer. The whole novel, with it's changing and retelling of scenes and the switching of time and place is just overall, fabulously, deliciously enchanting.
I cannot imagine this story without the voice of the superb narrator. I loved her portrayal of the various characters and accents, but she does a particularly wonderful job of creating believable voices for the children. The author is fabulous but the narrator is simply divine
I really wanted to like this because I love everything else Kate Atkinson has written. So I kept trying and re-trying to slog through it. But it is so, so boring. The characters are bland, the setting is bland and every time her life started again, I groaned because I knew there was just more blandness coming. Really disappointed
The repetition of the first chapter I felt that we were never getting beyond the birth of the baby in February 1910. The whole story was pointless, the author said she had no idea what the story was about , that says it all.
No if this story was an example of her writing .
No the reading was OK the story was poor
The story would have been enjoyable if there weren't so many possible aspects to Ursula's Life
The most powerful message was the horrors of civilian suffering . How DARE allies and Germans alike so relentlessly bomb each other's defenceless citizens
Did it meet your expectations?
It exceeded them. Having never read Kate Atkinson before, this book was like discovering a new favourite ice cream flavour, or piece of music- joyful and wonderful.
What was the most memorable moments?
Hard to choose just one, but some of the moments that Ursula recounts from during the war, when she volunteers to help with the bombing clear up were harrowing and totally gripping
The ending was good too.
How was the narrators?
One of the best that I've heard on Audible thus far. I love her and could listen to her all day and never tire.
"Listened to this twice"
Wonderful book! Moving, thought-provoking and original. It's just my sort of novel. I highly recommend it.
"Very engaging performance."
I read this book about a year ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, although I found the ending unsatisfying. The performance of this narrator was excellent and it was very pleasurable to listen. I think the book makes more sense the second time through, and listening to it really brings it alive.
The central character is very likeable, and all the characters are believable and have depth. The way the story explores different paths through life, what might have happened had something quite trivial been done differently or different decisions been taken, is fascinating. The social history is also very well done - informative without being didactic.
It has to be Ursula, although Izzy came a close second.
"A fascinating story"
I thoroughly enjoyed this intriguing and thought-provoking book. I loved the exploration of how differently life can turn out with split-second timing or different choices. It's a bit along the lines of the film "Sliding Doors" but whereas that film has just two different scenarios, this book has many. Great food for thought as to how much of our lives is dictated by fate or fatal choice. We all must wonder how things would have turned out if we had made a different choices during our lives.
The characters were very real and I found myself really caring about what was going to happen to them. One small caveat though - I did think that the story started to lose it's way around about the middle, and the number of scenarios became a tad boring - just too much repetition. It soon picked up again though, so if you have the same reaction, do persevere. Several times I thought that the story was satisfactorily wrapped up, and was surprised when the next chapter appeared - but if anything it became more and more intriguing. I shall certainly relish listening to it again, maybe in a couple of years or so. Brilliant narration enhanced the story even more.
"Challenging and deeply sattisfying"
An excellent book! The first Kate Atkinson I've really enjoyed since Human Croquet, although this is deeper and much more complicated.
I found the publisher's blurb "What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?" to be unhelpful, though. The story told is not about this but is the well-written details of Ursula's various probable lives, each changed minutely or wholly by her own unknowing choices - or (sometimes) the choices of others.
This is a challenging read and although the first half, dealing with Ursula's various childhoods, were very enjoyable and I was completely gripped by it, the second half, covering Ursula's violent and difficult marriage, or in another life, her work as an ARP during WW2 where nothing - especially dead bodies and bombs - is glossed over and yet another where she starves with her child in Germany at the end of WW2.
There appears to be no overall story to this book, no getting it "right" and no ultimate end.
It was a wonderful read, exceedingly well-written and beautifully narrated.
I look forward to seeing this novel as a contender for some high-profile prizes in 2013.
"What a waste, Kate."
So disappointing - I was so excited to download a new Kate Atkinson novel but this book was not the treat I was expecting. The story was so boring and, with the full intention of the author, extremely repetitive. The book had none of Kate's intricate and exciting plots that unravel and all makes sense in the end. If I hadn't been listening to it with someone else bothering to read it to me, I would never have finished reading it. Come on Kate, you can do better!
"Loved every word"
Thought provoking and fascinating til the end. Became totally absorbed into the world of the Todd family.
"One of the best books ever"
I LOVED this book. Fantastic idea exquisitely written and brilliantly narrated. So interesting ......
"Extraordinarily inventive, moving and gripping."
What can I say? Atkinson must be the top literary novelist of her generation, and this novel, with its partner A God in Ruins, is just a joy to listen to. I just don't know how she does it. I'm speechless. I've never known a novel that paints WW2 so well. The characters are beautifully drawn, the style effortless, and the whole awful grip of WW2 is quite within her grasp. Nothing else to say that wouldn't be crazily verbose, so just listen to it and be awed, and affected.
"Witty, deep and clever storytelling"
This is a long story with the mystery of Ursula's reincarnation kept refreshing by having different perspectives each time she lives her life again. Sometimes very sad, sometimes witty but always captivating. It kept me going during my long journeys to work.
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