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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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  •  
    Diane Louisville, KY, United States 04-08-13
    Diane Louisville, KY, United States 04-08-13 Member Since 2010
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    "Life after life after life after life after life.."

    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.

    31 of 33 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pamela J United States 04-09-13
    Pamela J United States 04-09-13 Member Since 2014

    Sure, I'd love to hear your story....

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    "A few lives too many..."

    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.

    29 of 32 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amanda Phoenix, AZ, United States 04-06-13
    Amanda Phoenix, AZ, United States 04-06-13 Member Since 2014

    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.

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    "Extremely Well Done"

    "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.

    31 of 35 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ms. Pam League City, TX, United States 09-06-13
    Ms. Pam League City, TX, United States 09-06-13 Member Since 2015

    I love technology, reading, music, and shoes (not necessarily in that order.)

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    "Mixed Feelings"

    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.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lisa 04-04-13
    Lisa 04-04-13

    I have always loved to read. Discovering audible has been great for a multitasker! Sorry for any misspells on reviews!

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    "Not what I was expecting"

    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.

    22 of 25 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lynne 04-08-13
    Lynne 04-08-13
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    "Stick with it"

    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.

    16 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    cristina Somerville, MA, United States 04-18-13
    cristina Somerville, MA, United States 04-18-13 Member Since 2015
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    "Did not want the lives to end"

    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.

    10 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dina LAKE ZURICH, IL, United States 04-17-13
    Dina LAKE ZURICH, IL, United States 04-17-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Can We Change The Past????"

    In this unusual novel, the main character, Ursula, dies and is re-born dozens of times. Upon each re-birth she enters the same life again and again. And, each time, through pure instinct and déjà vu, she tries to fix previous mistakes that led to her death and to the death of friends and family.

    The premise of Life After Life, led me to think about our opportunities for remedying mistakes in the life we are currently living. Surely, we can’t go back in time and prevent things from occurring, but, on the other hand, might we somehow shift our memories and the memories of others?

    Great writing and a really unique premise. I would have given it 5 stars overall, but I thought the author concentrated on repeating Ursula's lives during WWII way too much.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer 11-10-14

    I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.

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    "High Concept, Low Execution"

    My lack of "full" enjoyment for this book is probably a combination of factors. I'm well-versed in the idea of parallel universes and multiple versions of the same characters thanks to a lifetime of comic books, and I went through this book on the heels of a James Bond novel, which is himself a character with many different incarnations, so that helps to illustrate my mindset. So why read this one? I try to shake things up and read something "literary" every so often because I do enjoy variety. And nothing says variety quite like parallel dimensions. Imagine my disappointment when the potential of parallel universes in a novel like this is limited to the mundane and boring.

    That's not to say there isn't something about this book to enjoy. As a character study, this is very well done (within its rather limited scope), until you get towards the end, at which point it disintegrates into nonsense because the author clearly hasn't read enough comic books to help her solidify what this idea might be about. High concept is one thing, but if you can't express your idea fully, regardless of medium, the idea comes across as rather pointless. This book is probably for those who aren't immersed in the fantastical and rather gimmicky nature of whatever it is the author is attempting to explore.

    On those lines, I feel like the author is trying to say that this potential for all of us to have multiple versions of ourselves exist, but there is only one version that is "perfect." I find that to be extremely cynical and depressing. It's pretentious. And if I'm misinterpreting that, then Ms. Atkinson has my apologies.

    For me, the shining point of this book is the writing style. Atkinson's prose is lyrical and enjoyable, but it just feels like the most beautiful voice in the world is singing the phone book. The very nature of the story is that it could go quite literally anywhere, and it goes to a great many versions of nowhere instead. This is made worse by the fact that our multiverse protagonist shoots Hitler in the opening scene. After a promising start like that, you'd think there would be something incredible in there. I didn't expect this to be an action novel, but I expected more variety from the concept. Instead, it's shades of bleh. What a letdown.

    3 of 3 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 2009

    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.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
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