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Life After Life: A Novel | [Kate Atkinson]

Life After Life: A Novel

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

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  •  
    Anastasia Burke California 03-14-14
    Anastasia Burke California 03-14-14 Member Since 2007

    Say something about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Will read it again..and again"
    Would you listen to Life After Life again? Why?

    As noted by other reviewers, this book poses some very intriguing questions, primary among them--"If I'd made just one different decision, even a seemingly small one, what impact would that have had on the path my life took?"

    I'll also read it again to better examine the careful selection of language. It is no small feat to take a story that repeats itself in some ways over and over--and keep the reader hooked. Atkinson is skillful with even the least of syllables.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Life After Life?

    Ursula, in all her many incarnations, offered too many memorable moments to select just one. I must say, I do really love how protective and "mama bear" she becomes with her daughter. Lovely scenes there.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    What changes...what remains the same?


    Any additional comments?

    Although I'm a Kate Atkinson fan, I avoided this book for a long time, thinking that the plot sounded a little too paranormal for my tastes. I'm so glad I read it. Literally, I couldn't stop listening.

    I think fans of Audrey Neffeneger, Sebbastian Faulk, Julian Barnes, and AS Byatt will get a lot out of this book.

    I must also say that the narration is simply outstanding. I will be nominating Fenella Woolgar for every audio award out there, And reading every book she has narrated. Just abrilliant, peerless performance, a beautiful voice, with excellent accents.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scott Moss Beach, CA, United States 06-02-14
    Scott Moss Beach, CA, United States 06-02-14 Member Since 2008

    Wine, food and travel writer, editor, and aspiring novelist.

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    "The Sweetness of a Do Over"

    This is one of my favorite books of the past year (out of about 60). The concept is intriguing, and the protagonist becomes more compelling with each iteration. The minor characters also acquire more depth as they resurface throughout the stories. The narrator could not have been better. And the ending is tremendously satisfying. This is not a book I'll soon forget.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Miss Irene Portland OR 12-08-13
    Miss Irene Portland OR 12-08-13 Member Since 2005

    Miss Irene

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    "Just Couldn't Get Into This Book"

    Even the excellent narration couldn't keep me interested in this book; 2 hours into the performance and I was still unattached to the characters and their lives. It just wasn't to my taste.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 07-09-13
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 07-09-13 Member Since 2005

    malfi

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Semi-Brilliant, 100% Entertaining"

    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.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marcy Fairfield, CT, United States 05-08-13
    Marcy Fairfield, CT, United States 05-08-13 Member Since 2003
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    "I never wanted it to end"

    At first I was unsure about this book, but the more we lives we lived, the better it got. It was a fascinating study on what could be, what might have been. This could have gone on and I would still be listening.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeff Radt Pasadena, CA, USA 04-21-13
    Jeff Radt Pasadena, CA, USA 04-21-13 Member Since 2006
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    "Unexpectedly enthralling"

    In a beautifully narrated presentation, Atkinson's novel unfolds to us, layer upon layer, a story of great depth and character. A thriller, a saga, a deep well of richness in which to immerse yourself.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Annette United States 04-11-13
    Annette United States 04-11-13 Member Since 2004

    I'm trying to wean myself and learn to function without earbuds for more than ten minutes at a time. It hasn't been easy. I lose balance...

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "What could have failed so easily has not..."

    If there's one thing I love more than time travel- and arguably reincarnation is that as well...it's death theory and WWII. I confess I'm not done listening to this for the second time yet- and I suspect there may be more...after all...that is the point...I doubt in print I'd be half as emotionally invested which is everything. I'll tell you more next time through.

    So, yes- I recommend it. But it's not a side listen while doing too much, it requires some attention. Beautifully performed though my download had some issues...I blame iPhone there....for me the British can only be understood in their own accent but I'm funny like that.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gail Seattle, WA, United States 04-20-13
    Gail Seattle, WA, United States 04-20-13 Member Since 2007
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    "Moments of Great Writing Yet Utter Failure"

    As I entered the book, almost immediately I drew in my breath in a gasp at the beauty of the writing, the narration...knew that I was in the hands of a fine literary artist and was ready for a momentous ride. From the title one knows that the main character, Ursula, will die often so I was not emotionally harmed by her multiple sudden deaths but set my mind to watch how her life "repeats" related or built to the point where she "gets it right"...and what the author's vision of getting it right would be. Unfortunately after the flow and glow of her first 8 or so life repeats, to me, the book totally loses focus and gets tedious. Still, I plunged on trusting that no matter how boring, the author was leading to a point..any point that might be interesting and even hoped for a little moment of awe. The reader knows there will be a critical scene with Hitler from the get go. It takes forever to get back to that moment of choice...gets there then ends as though it never happened. Huh? Many of the characters know they are repeating their lives to varying degrees, yet nothing interesting is deduced after the reader knows this is happening. Did you think Ursula got it right in the end...the very strange, silly Hollywood ending? Did the end make any sense whatsoever? It is worth a read as it is great writing, you will meet people you like and there are vignettes of the bombing of London that are fabulous, but don't expect any awe and prepare to be disappointed.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Free528 06-24-14
    Free528 06-24-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Never wanted it to end"
    Would you listen to Life After Life again? Why?

    I never re-read books or re-listen to them EXCEPT for Bill Bryson and Kate Atkinson. I just may give this one another listen.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Izzy! I love a crazy Auntie.


    What about Fenella Woolgar’s performance did you like?

    She had a great ability to evoke many different characters.


    Who was the most memorable character of Life After Life and why?

    Ursula was such a compelling character.


    Any additional comments?

    If you liked Behind the Scenes at the Museum, you will especially love this one.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brooke Willis, TX, United States 06-22-14
    Brooke Willis, TX, United States 06-22-14 Member Since 2011

    Audio books are my new favorite thing, I'm catching up on so many books. If you know any good dystopia novels, please recommend them to me!

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    "Interesting take on historical fiction"

    I enjoyed listening to this book and its take on early to mid 1900's England.

    I think we all wonder what life would be like if we had a chance to live it over again and this book really captured those possible slight differences between lives without making it too unrealistic.

    Overall I did feel it was a bit sad, granted 1910-1945 England had its fair share of hardships so I suppose I can't expect anything different...

    Good listen, not great but good.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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