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
I am shocked by how much I ended up enjoying this book. It took about 10 hours--really about two thirds of the way through the story--before I was won over and caught up in it all. I was absolutely determined to finish the book and not give up. I will also admit that I was completely disappointed and confused up until this 10 hour point in the story. I have to stress that when other positive reviewers caution that you need to stick with the book and give it time--they mean it. I join them in this warning. This book takes lots of patience. The listener needs to keep an open mind and pay attention. To me, in the end, it was more than worth it. I grew to love the characters. I loved the exploration of concepts of time, war, and the impact of personal choice.
All that said, the story does require the willingness on the part of the listener to suspend disbelief. Also, be aware that the writing has a dark side and at times can be very dour. The experience of the horrors of the Blitzkrieg or "lightening war" waged on the United Kingdom during WWII--in all its gruesome detail is difficult listening.
I already have the next book in my library and unlike other reviews I do think that there is more to say with this story. I can't wait to see what happens next.
Recommended if you are willing to give the story time to unfold. A captivating listen.
I could not put this fascinating book down. I was breathless when I came to the end of it. I quickly downloaded the companion novel, A God in Ruins, and was moved to tears by it as well.
I'm now going back to listen to this novel again, something I never do so soon after the first reading. There is so much technique and so much heart, I need to experience it again.
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.
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.
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.
This book was really good, but difficult to follow at times. I feel like it may have been easier to just read it. The narrator was great, though. I'd definitely recommend it!
I learned about this book on NPR from their story about the sequel which just came out. It was not a five-star book for me at first; my thought process went something like,"I thought she died!"
"I thought HE died! Why is this author making me get all sad about characters that don't really die?"
But then maybe I'm not listening to these audiobooks as carefully as I always think I am...
No, NO! Some characters die over and over. This is just an unreliable narrator, but it's okay because the situations and characters are so interesting that I want them to live and go on to do great things, like dig people out during the blitz, prevent a rape, or plan how to learn German, befriend Eva Brown, and kill Hitler
Every time I pay attention to World War II, I learn new aspects of the those horrifying years. Once I got past my confusion, this book was pretty consistently fascinating and the best I've heard/read in a while.
Perhaps this is a book that is better read than listened to. I couldn't follow the story line well and got frustrated. I hardly ever put a book down before I finish it but I just couldn't go on. Others in our book club made it through but they also felt it was hard to read and follow.
Say something about yourself!
The author is gifted in story telling, but whoever summarized the book failed. The book is about a Buddhist belief in that we are trapped in the samsara. However, it is a samsara over a single life time. If you like Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, then you will enjoy this book. If you are looking for The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, then look else where.
I think this would have been an ok book to read, but never as an audio-book. The concept of having different lives, or different endings to your life's stories is interestimg, but you absolutely cannot follow it as an audio book. It jumped from time to time, back and forth again, and there was no was to tell what "life" I listening to. it was incredibly frustrating!! I don't recommend this book at all!
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