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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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Story

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Exhilarating, breathtaking book

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.

22 of 23 people found this review helpful

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Strange & Fascinating

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.

65 of 72 people found this review helpful

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  • Amanda
  • Phoenix, AZ, United States
  • 04-06-13

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.

53 of 62 people found this review helpful

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Thought provking premise well executed

First of all, the performance was terrific. Well done, Fenella. The premise of the story is evocative, however, in audible form, you WILL get lost in the story and wonder where the heck you are...perhaps ebookmarks could help, I didn't try them. Sometimes a rebirth droned on and some situations were uninteresting, others were quite good. I think the book would have benefited from more editing out, making it a shorter book with more impact. Then again, some lives are quite dull. I'm sure I would have enjoyed the book more had I not gotten lost so many times. It is a long book, so the potential to get lost is high.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Very good, just hard to follow at times.

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!

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Diane
  • Louisville, KY, United States
  • 04-08-13

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.

57 of 70 people found this review helpful

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Life After Life

Life After Life is a story of reincarnation. The lead character relives her life over and over, many times - the same life with different paths taken. In one, she lives but seconds, in others much longer, with joys and grief - but primarily angst. Example: In an early life, she dies from strangulation from the umbilical cord - in another life - many chapters later, mom is prepared with scissors. In one life she’s raped, in another life she suspects the event and avoids rape. In one life she marries an-asshole-wife-beating-jackass, in another life she meets the stranger in the same way but runs from him. That’s sort of stuff, pretty much, with one world history altering event. Hint: WWII-Germany. The author uses deja vù or sixth sense understanding rather than past life memories or discussion of reincarnation specifics.

Liked: Narration. Fenella Woolgar is very listenable, a pleasure. I’ll try to find other works she’s read.

Disliked: Everything else. The story is extremely hard to follow. If you’re like me, you’ll re-listen to a passage or chapter to get it straight, to understand the story or where the author is headed. This book is rewind hell - and I still didn’t get it, ergo stopped trying. Although I’m far from an expert in the theory of reincarnation, I don’t believe the fundamentals include reliving the same life and making different choices. I may be all wet there, but I think you are reincarnated to an entirely different life. Plus, the lead doesn’t always “die” - but you’ll learn she actually did because the next chapter opens with the fact that it is snowing. Really. If you’re looking for a book that delves into the conundrums of reincarnation and resulting ramifications from a scientific view, this is not the book - it doesn’t go there.

Tried to listen, but gave up and will be requesting a refund from Audible. Eyes kept glazing over through 95% of the first 21 chapters, didn’t listen to the remainder. The audiobook is just over 15 hours, but even listening to only 2/3rds of this I know I listened at least 20 hours (rewinds). I am truly baffled by all the stellar reviews - the main reason I purchased. Beats me.

Not recommended. Written by Kate Atkinson, narrated by Fenella Woolgar, 15.5 of listening in unabridged audiobook format. Released in April of 2013 by Hachette Audio.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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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.

25 of 31 people found this review helpful

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Good ending, it would probably be a better read

I found that this book, while well written, had me confused a lot of the time since it is not in any sort of chronological order. I enjoyed the stories and the ending, but it was not my favorite audiobook.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Not for my taste

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

I didn't feel like I ever got into this. It was a series life possibilities but I never got to feel like I knew the characters. Way too far fetched in some instances.

What was most disappointing about Kate Atkinson’s story?

Got a bit old and was easy to see what was going to happen as each scenario unfolded. The change of outlook prevented the depth of character development. Some scenarios were very brief and others contained so much detail that the story line (lines) didn't seem to run fluidly.

What about Fenella Woolgar’s performance did you like?

She was an excellent narrator. Did a good job of differentiating the voices. I will see what else she has narrated and if the subject intrigues me, I would certainly enjoy listening to her again.

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

no

Any additional comments?

Just not thrilled with this rendering of an interesting premise. I chose it based on other reviews - but we all don't have the same taste even if we read many of the same books.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful