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Publisher's Summary

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

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • 4.2 out of 5.0
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  • Overall
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  • Story

"Become what you are" meets "Needs must"

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.

  • Overall
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a bit jumpy but well worth persevering

Would you listen to Life After Life again? Why?

Yes. A really interesting story line with great characters. Sort of like a choose your own adventure where you can go back and find a better ending, except the author is choosing the new story lines her self, time and time again.

What other book might you compare Life After Life to and why?

The book thief or The time traveller's wife for its unconventional story line

Any additional comments?

I read comments about how jumpy the story line was and that put me off a little bit. But you soon get used to it and I actually started looking forward to the story line jumping back in time again. A great novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.

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  • Donna
  • New Lambton, Australia
  • 03-16-14

Can I give this book six stars?

Where does Life After Life rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Top 5.

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

Every moment described in beautiful detail by Kate Atkinson becomes memorable. I am literally IN the rooms, the gardens, the wars and the hearts of the characters. The story is compelling, funny, poignant and mesmerising.

Which scene was your favorite?

The novel involves the retelling of stories multiple times so this is tricky to answer. The whole novel, with it's changing and retelling of scenes and the switching of time and place is just overall, fabulously, deliciously enchanting.

Any additional comments?

I cannot imagine this story without the voice of the superb narrator. I loved her portrayal of the various characters and accents, but she does a particularly wonderful job of creating believable voices for the children. The author is fabulous but the narrator is simply divine

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So tedious

I really wanted to like this because I love everything else Kate Atkinson has written. So I kept trying and re-trying to slog through it. But it is so, so boring. The characters are bland, the setting is bland and every time her life started again, I groaned because I knew there was just more blandness coming. Really disappointed

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Tedious

What disappointed you about Life After Life?

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.

Would you ever listen to anything by Kate Atkinson again?

No if this story was an example of her writing .

What aspect of Fenella Woolgar’s performance would you have changed?

No the reading was OK the story was poor

What character would you cut from Life After Life?

Derek Oliphant

Any additional comments?

The story would have been enjoyable if there weren't so many possible aspects to Ursula's Life

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Could not follow the shifting timelines

The most powerful message was the horrors of civilian suffering . How DARE allies and Germans alike so relentlessly bomb each other's defenceless citizens

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
  • Joanna Burke
  • 04-27-13

Beautifully read

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.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • jenny wren
  • 09-26-16

Extraordinarily inventive, moving and gripping.

What can I say? Atkinson must be the top literary novelist of her generation, and this novel, with its partner A God in Ruins, is just a joy to listen to. I just don't know how she does it. I'm speechless. I've never known a novel that paints WW2 so well. The characters are beautifully drawn, the style effortless, and the whole awful grip of WW2 is quite within her grasp. Nothing else to say that wouldn't be crazily verbose, so just listen to it and be awed, and affected.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Sigrin
  • 05-12-15

The Camomile Lawn meets Sliding Doors

My first Kate Atkinson and doubt it will be my last, what an imaginative writer.
The book centres around Ursula and her family, from the moment she was born in 1910 and tells the stories of many "what ifs" surrounding her life and the impact of these scenarios on other peoples lives.
The story moves back and forth from her birth to the 60's, the attention to detail in the second world war was superb, with a couple of hidden gem events that will make you think.
Lastly Fennella Woolgar was a superb narrator with a wealth of voices she cleverly aged, so you do not get muddled with the different stories.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Cath
  • 04-20-15

Brilliant

Did it meet your expectations?

It exceeded them. Having never read Kate Atkinson before, this book was like discovering a new favourite ice cream flavour, or piece of music- joyful and wonderful.

What was the most memorable moments?
Hard to choose just one, but some of the moments that Ursula recounts from during the war, when she volunteers to help with the bombing clear up were harrowing and totally gripping
The ending was good too.

How was the narrators?
One of the best that I've heard on Audible thus far. I love her and could listen to her all day and never tire.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Jenny
  • 04-20-15

Listened to this twice

What did you like most about Life After Life?

Wonderful book! Moving, thought-provoking and original. It's just my sort of novel. I highly recommend it.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Lottie
  • 04-13-13

Well done

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.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • A. Marston
  • 06-16-17

Don't read if you can't keep track

Very complicated and got boring going backwards and forwards usually I get completely engrossed but couldn't get into this at all.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • maria
  • 06-14-17

frustrating

this was pretty incoherent for the most part. i did get used to it by the end but fed up with the repetition and uncertainty of what was real. end was also frustrating but no surprise there. nicely read though.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • G. C. Hopkins
  • 06-12-17

Just dull

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

Very little happened in the first hour, if there was a significant event to liven it up I might have bothered to listen a little more

Has Life After Life put you off other books in this genre?

Yes, it might as well have been bonnets and Darcy

What about Fenella Woolgar’s performance did you like?

The story was well read, it was just a shame that there wasn't really a story

What character would you cut from Life After Life?

All of them

Any additional comments?

I'm sure it's a fine book, just not my cup of tea

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • dawn swinburne
  • 06-10-17

ground hog day

oh I really struggled with this. could not understand what was going on. remember sliding doors? ..this was more like stuck on a escalator, battled it out to the end in hope of enlightment, but I am still on the dark, nice insight in how it must have felt being in a air raid and lovely narration.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful