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
If you could live your life over time and time again, would you/ could you ever get it right? That is the central question of this book. The next question posed is if this ability to relive your life would be a gift or a curse. This is a book of fantasy and historical fiction. It poses philosophical questions concerning how life should be lived.
Atkinson's writing is clever, both the questions she poses and her ironic, satirical, sarcastic and often sardonic humor. Don't expect good-natured laughs based on happiness. It is solely because of the writing that I have chosen three rather than only two stars.
The book is confusing. Not only does the reader jump back and forth in time but also into different versions of the same story, the point being that there is not just one story. The stories overlap at points only to later go off in different directions. The reader must continually figure out if they have been dropped into a different version or a different time period of an earlier version. In addition, many characters are not introduced. When they are first mentioned you have not the slightest idea who they are.
By the end everything is interwoven. Picture a twine of yarn that is split at several points, each strand going off in different directions. The reader hops back and forth to different segments. Is there one "correct" ending? Is there one preferable ending? Is it possible to choose the final destination? Most importantly, what is the message of the book? Was the message worth the confusion? In my view, the answer is no.
I thought the author magnificently described life in London both during the Blitz and after the war. I enjoyed the segment set in Obersalzberg, at Hitler's residence Berghof, near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany, meeting up with Eva Braun. This IS a book of historical fiction. Events of both WW1 and WW2 are covered.
The audiobook narration by Fenella Woolgar was exemplary. Irish, British, American and French accents are all perfectly executed. I believe the audio version further enhances how people of different cultures "think".
You must keep a paper and pen nearby to jot down the date of the episode you are listening to. In addition, I recommend you read this book quickly; if you read a little each day you are sure to get lost! Good Luck!
I think this is my absolute favourite Kate Atkinson. What are the pivotal episodes in our lives that alter everything to come? Who can determine the purpose in their own life? An absolute thought provoking narrative.
Excellently performed by Fenella Woolgar
The story draws you in from the very start. Over and over the story is retold and the path of her life is rewritten. It's gentle and sad, uplifting and wistful. I really enjoyed it.
Although the writing is lovely, the plot is never ending death and rebirth with absolutely no purpose.
I chose to read this book as the plot sounded interesting, a chance to correct previous mistakes, for your life to end up on the best path.
However this was not the case!! In some lives Ursula was able to correct previous mistakes, in the end though, there is no point because each time she is re-born into the same life to start all over again.
I thought there would eventually be an ending, as she was able to make a "better" choice in the next life, but this is not the case at all!!
I stuck with the book right through to the end hoping eventually she would live to old age and find peace, but even when you think "ok that's it, that's what she was meant to achieve", it's not as the book ends with her being born on the same day, all over again!!
Also, on another note, don't read this book if you are having a hard time in your own life!! There is so much death and destruction during the world war 2 (lives), the graphic detail of the London bombings, as Ursula worked as a rescuer, was almost too much and completely miserable reading.
Yes, but I am biased...I love any book by Kate Atkinson.
The bomb scene in the London townhouse when the baby is found...
Audible books come to life with a brilliant narrator...
Silvie - as long as we could have dinner at Fox Corner as I would love to visit that house.
LIke I said, please write another book soon Kate Atkinson.
One Day, The Last Letter from Your Lover
No, she's new to me, but I'll be looking into her other performances.
I never wanted to reach my destination in the car and turn it off. I miss it since I finished listening.
I've recommended this to my friends. I just loved it.
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.
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
"A satisfying trip through sliding doors"
I've enjoyed a number of Kate A's books, includding all the unabridged ones on audible, and think this is my new favourite. Well written and narrated, it covers a period from 1910 until post-war, returning time and again to reconsider events and what might have been. Parallel worlds of personal history? The path/s taken/not taken? Deja vu is given an intriguing viewpoint through moving portraits of people locked together by family and circumstance. I loved it!
"Intriguing story of "what ifs""
Kate Atkinson is such an imaginative writer and has again produced an intriguing, multi-layered story that explores different scenarios for the characters that pivot on a single event or choice in their lives that leads to quite different outcomes. There's an undercurrent of mysticism over the possibility of re-incarnation and the notion that time is fluid such that the past and future can intrude into the present.
The narrative switches back and forth in time from 1910 to 1967. You might think that this would be confusing in an audio book, but this is not the case: The time periods are clearly sign-posted and the characters seem so familiar that one remembers what happened to them in the other scenarios. The book is rich in period detail, particularly those during the Second World War. I was sorry when the book finished as I had felt so absorbed by the characters lives and made to think about how ones life can change direction in an instant.
The narrator is very good.
I really enjoyed it, and thought Fenella Woolgar has the perfect voice (she has an amazing range and can do male, female and child's voices very convincingly). My only criticism is that it was over-long.... about 45 minutes before the end I was thinking "ok,.. I think we've finally got there"... and we hadn't. But in general I'd certainly recommend it.
"Intriguing story, beautifully told."
This was my first Kate Atkinson book, and I shall certainly seek out others. The narrative, though fractured is gripping, and the fluent style is reminiscent of Elisabeth Jane Howard
at her best.
I agree that it seemed to lose its way a little toward the end, and would the pedantic Ursula really misuse the term 'beg the question' ?
Despite these niggles, I have become a fan of this author, and of Fenella Woolgar's superb narration.
Kate Atkinson does not disappoint with this story where the main character has several opportunities to relive her life. The story is in true Atkinson style with lots of twists and turns and the narrator's voice is very soothing.If you have enjoyed this author's other novels, you should enjoy this.
"Superbly written and superbly read."
There are times when a book takes your breath away - the originality of the story line and the quality of the writing work together to bring the reader something wonderful. That is what Kate Atkinson has done with her latest novel. How often have we asked the question 'what would have happened if...?' - Ms Atkinson has taken that idea and constructed something marvelous with it. The reading too is excellent, Fenella Woolgar added an extra dimension to what is an excellent novel. Her characterisation was superb, and her wonderful modulation kept me spellbound. I could not stop listening. I loved it all.
Another great Atkinson book full of fresh and original story. What if you had the chance to relive your life until you got it right? Ursella, goes through her live over and over, and each time she does something, it completely changes her past. With much more punch and exciting story plot than Groundhog Day, you realise that your life could go in any direction. After reading this, if makes you see life as more valuable than before, as every action, every person you meet will mark you life and soul forever.
"Gripping, original, fantastic"
Have read all of Kate Atkinson's books and this has to be her best. I'd never voluntarily listen to /read any WW2 books. But this......stunning and evocative.
Great characters, fascinating plot, gripped from start to finish.
Imagine The Time Travelers Wife crossed with Sarah Waters The Night Watch.
And them some. 5 star.
The reader was brilliant. She captured the voice of the era perfectly and brought the characters to life.
The story was clever, the idea of being born again and again until you got it right, was fascinating.
It is the first time I have read about war torn London, usually avoid war stories, but this was beautifully done and very evocative.
It all worked very well .. until the end. Then, I'm just not sure. It wasn't what I expected and I don't feel I understood anymore. I may go back and re-listen to the end and see if I can understand it better. It sort of ..flopped. But the rest of the book was terrific.
"Couldn't finish it"
I've enjoyed several other Kate Atkinson talking books and was looking forward to Life after Life as the subject matter seems intriguing. The repetition of events is obviously intentional, but the childhood of Ursula seemed interminable and became tedious, so I jumped to the next part hoping it would improve, as I know several other reviewers thought it was a wonderful audiobook. In my opinion it didn't improve as I found the minutiae of description and repetition irritating. The narrator was excellent but even she couldn't persuade me to continue, so I gave up and couldn't finish it.
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