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?
Darkly comic, startlingly poignant, and utterly original - this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.
©2011 Kate Atkinson (P)2013 Hachette Audio
Sure, I'd love to hear your story....
UGH! I'm so confused. It's good, not great. It's boring and fascinating. It's clever but kind of cheats to be smart. You should take your time, but hurry along.
This well written, but overly long book has such a clever premise that the actuality of it is a bit of a disappointment. And even with that criticism, the heart of this book is smart and well written, but just requires a lot of patience. I did have more than a few times when I felt like this was a cheat being able to start over just as your character is painted into the proverbial corner, but then she does a wonderful job transmitting the agony of war and loss you're so curious about how our hero's life will be different. This is definitely a long car ride, meandering vacation, listen, but then again, if you put it down for too long you forget where you are when life replays itself.
This is a TRULY BRITISH book. If you're an Anglophile (or entranced with British history shows), you may have more patience with this one than I had.
The intriguing premise of this novel tackles some rather weighty existential questions. How much control do we have over our own fates? Would we, if we had some premonition of their significance, alter some of the seemingly inconsequential decisions and happenstances of our lives which later turn out to have tremendous impact on the courses our lives take? How much would it matter in the end even if we were able to make such alterations?
These questions are explored through the many lifetimes of the protagonist, Ursula Todd, each lifetime beginning anew on the same snowy day in February 1910. In succeeding lifetimes, Ursula retains some shadowy sense of major traumas from previous lifetimes and is able to take some steps to avert future tragedy, although she can hardly explain her own motives in so acting. All too often, these actions have little or no impact on the ultimate course of her history--and even when they do, it's hard to keep from wondering after a while if it really matters one way or the other.
The book starts out well enough and held my interest for some time but would have far better at about 1/2 the length. I had no trouble following the storyline (just remember that everything starts all over with each February 1910 "birth" although some events might repeat themselves), but the novel's conceit grows tedious in the extreme after about a dozen lifetimes (I didn't keep count, but my guess is that there were in excess of 20). Paradoxically, I grew to care less and less about Ursula's fate(s) and came to just wish for an end to the interminable cycle of rebirth long before the book itself ended. I'm not sure if it was the author's intention, but I have never before so much appreciated the Hindu desire for the end of samsara and the liberation of moksha.
I have always loved to read. Discovering audible has been great for a multitasker! Sorry for any misspells on reviews!
This book is more of a life story rather than an adventure. We follow Ursala through her lives and see the way she tries to change things for the better ( with only intuitive feelings of her past lives). Each life gets a little longer and she retains more of her past memories with them towards the end.
I really enjoyed the story all though it is not action packed. My only problem with the story is that is was often confusing as it jumped from life to life, I had to pay very close attention or re-listen often to figure out what was going on. It may be less confusing in written form. I was also left wondering at some of the changes in her lives that she did not cause such as the adoption of a certain baby, did someone else in her family also repeat lives and change things or was it just a random happening. The ending of the book left me a little disappointed as I am not sure what was done to keep someone alive and also the very last sentences of the book were about a person who only had a few words mentioned about them prior and I never really understood their part in the story at all. It may be that I missed something that I would have understood if I read the book. I think the narrator gave a good performance. Over all I would rate my enjoyment of the book a 4 to 5 star but my satisfaction at a 3.
Ursula's lives become engrossing - what small decision or trick or turn of fate will change the course of things this time round? As the book unfolds most characters take a place on center stage, and some are more endearing than others! The story is partly a reflection on the British social structure in the first half of the 20th century - always entertaining - but also a reflection on the journeys our lives take. It made me reflect on the small decisions I have made that have resulted in big changes in my world! I thoroughly enjoyed both the book and the narration.
I rate as follows: 5 Stars = Loved it. 4 Stars = Really liked it. 3 Stars = Liked it. 2 Stars = Didn't like it. 1 Star = Hated it.
"Life After Life" is both the examination of one woman's life, experiences, and destiny, and also a larger vision of how our lives can take substantial turns based on very small decisions or actions. It's beautifully written, and the narration is excellent.
I had a surprisingly easy time following the time jumps and re-sets; if you note in the beginning that Ursula is born in 1910, it's a nice even number to judge the years and her age by, as the story goes along. Every time jump/reset is prefaced by a a clarification of exactly when and where you are.
Along with everything else the book has to offer, it's set in a fascinating time that covers both the first and second world war, and the story highlights what a woman's life was like during that time in England. Ursula's character was extremely well defined and presents you with an authentic, genuine person with a full family life, history, and personality. I enjoyed spending time with her.
There's one sub-plot that the book starts out with and picks up again towards the end that could be considered a bit of an overreach, and in my opinion the book would have stood up will without it. I found it's sensationalism at odds with what was otherwise an intimate and believable portrayal of a woman that could be any one of us, dealing with the extraordinary situation of repeated lives. If I had a vote, I would have left it out; but it did not ultimately hinder my deep enjoyment of the story and the people found within it.
As has been noted by another reviewer, this is not the story of a grand adventure; it instead takes your hand and allows you to step in and view the story of a family, and one member in particular; Ursula. I loved the relationships they all had with each other; they were true to life; an authentic family.
I recommend this book.
I love technology, reading, music, and shoes (not necessarily in that order.)
This review is for the Audible version. I gave this book “5 stars” because I enjoyed it (I think.)
I say I think because it took me a few chapters to catch on to what the heck was happening. I felt as if I was trapped in a Twilight Zone episode for a minute. Once I got the jest of what was happening I was able to concentrate more on the story – and a lot of story(s) it was.
I thought that the narrator, Fenella Woolgar, did an excellent job. She made each character come alive, and there was a distinct difference in their voices. It was a very unique approach to storytelling, and I think the book will find its way into the classroom because of this uniqueness.
However… there were times when I thought to myself… Lord is this every going to end! I did manage to make it to the end, and as I reflect back I enjoyed it as a whole. At the end of the book I knew all of the characters very well, and I have read many books where that was not the case.
If you appreciate “a different” approach to literature you will enjoy this. But be prepared to think as well as be entertained.
After listening to the first hour or so of Life After Life, I couldn't decide whether it was brilliant or lazy writing (lazy in the sense that the frame is simply the old writer's trick of coming up with multiple endings for a story in progress). I'm still not certain, but I'm leaning towards semi-brilliant.
What this is NOT is a story about reincarnation per se, despite the claim of several reviewers and the prefatory Nietzsche quote. In each of her "lives," Ursula Todd is the same person with the same name and the same family, born on the same day, in the same year; hers is not a spirit that passes on from one being or form to another. The book is also touted as a meditation on the choices that we make and the consequences that follow, suggesting the "What if?" that is the basis of the writer's exercise mentioned above. In each story/life, Ursula makes different choices or falls into different circumstances that lead to different outcomes, from being strangled by the umbilical cord during birth (hardly what I'd call a choice) to mundane deaths, violent deaths, accidental deaths, and into old age. Towards the end of the novel, she makes an observation that all time seems to be simultaneous--a metaphysical statement that may as easily be the novel's theme. "It seemed even the instability of time can't be relied upon," the young Ursula observes. In a later episode, Ursula experiences a moment of panic riddled with déja vu:
"She had been here before. She had never been here before. . . The past seemed to leak into the present, as if there was a fault somewhere, or was it the future spilling into the past? . . . Time was out of joint, that was certain."
Whatever its theme, Life After Life is a captivating story. In many aspects, the Todd family seems to represent the typical middle class British family of the last century, yet each member is also distinctive in his or her own right. Some, like Ursula's surly oldest brother Maurice, remain constant through each retelling; others, like her mother Sylvie, change considerably in reaction to events. It's easy to engage with interesting secondary characters like her wild aunt Izzie, Bridget the Irish maid, Miss Wolfe, and others. The depictions of the Blitz, brutal but realistic, are particularly affecting. Atkinson helps the reader to experience what life must have been like for those who experienced death and destruction on a massive scale, sensibilities numbed and life dominated by the need to carry on. However, I did find the long episode in Berlin with Eva Braun a bit tedious, although it does eventually link to others.
Atkinson's writing is indeed fine, at times poetic, at other times tersely straightforward, always perfectly pitched for the tone of the moment. Those moments range from charming to horrific, from humorous to spiritual, from jubilant to sorrowful--all the emotions of Ursula's many lives. Life After Life is, in fact, quite an emotional ride. At the conclusion, it still feels a bit unsettled and experimental, unsure of just what it means to convey to its readers. Still, the fact that it entertains so well while making one ask significant questions merits a strong recommendation. Fenella Woolgar, a reader I've not encountered before, does a very fine job indeed.
This book was a surprise! Like nothing I have heard before. The narration was one of the best parts for me, I know it wouldn't have been the same if I had read it myself. That is my favorite thing about Audible... the stories come to life like they could never have done with me just reading!! (I may never READ a book again!!)
Life after Life had me on the edge from first word to last. A story of the never ending do-over even if you don't want to do it over. What a concept! All I can say is give it a chance, I'm so glad I did. 5 star all around!!
If time is a river Ursula can swim to the bank and reenter at different points. The result is a different, though not necessarily better outcome in Atkinson’s book. When things aren’t going well, usually resulting in death, she can go back to the beginning or even some crucial crossroads and have another go at it. There is a subconscious learning experience that seems to gradually produce a vestigial memory along with more satisfactory results. There is a bit of Groundhog Day (the movie) in this but the writing is first rate which makes the different iterations easy and interesting to follow. As the do overs mount up Ursula has a déjà vu inkling that she’s been there (here) and done that before. The psychiatrist fond of Eastern religions that she sees in some of her lives mentions reincarnation. That’s not quite what she is experiencing but there is the aspect of getting it right before moving on to some other plane of existence or nonexistence. A good story of a large family in pre-WWI England through post WWII provides the backdrop for the timeless pursuit of better outcomes. The notion of reliving life is not so farfetched since most of us do it regularly in our daydreams. Atkinson supplies substance to such daydreams through Ursula and does a fine job of it.
The story is kind of like an onion. Our heroine, basically, lives several lives at once. Surprisingly, the author manages to pull it off without much confusion or contrivance. Even more surprising, it works in audio form (credit goes to the narrator as well, who is quite good). I did not give it five stars only because, as another reviewer also mentions, there is one gratuitous event that turns what is a very believable bunch of lives into a fairy tale for a moment. The novel did not need that -- and it makes the book almost fail towards the end.
Still, I liked it. Particularly the fact that, even though the heroine is shaped by the events in her lives, she is -- at her core -- who she is in spite of that.
Have enjoyed all of Kate Atkinson's books. This one is no exception.
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