Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

The Adventure of Augustus,” Teddy read aloud, “by Delphie Fox.”
“Why is everything an adventure with you?” Sylvie said irritably to Izzie. 
“Because life is an adventure, of course.”
“I would say it was more of an endurance race,” Sylvie said. “Or an obstacle course.” 
“Oh, my dear,” Hugh said, suddenly solicitous, “not that bad, surely?” p. 181
What if Ursula didn’t die at birth when the cord was wrapped around her neck, but went on to live a full life? What if she was able to fend off her brother’s friend at age 16, and thereby avoid rape and subsequent pregnancy? What if she never married Derek and wasn’t an abused wife? What if the bombs that fell during WWII didn’t crush her in the basement of her tenement building? What if Crighton didn’t leave her, but instead left his wife and asked her to marry him? 
The scenarios of Ursula’s life, set in the context of England’s history beginning with the 1920’s, are played out over and over again. She dies, and then we go back in time to the beginning of that particular point and play out a different set of events. It reminds me of the children in school who, when faced with a disastrous outcome, shout, “Do over!” Because who doesn’t fantasize about the chance to go back and do things differently? Who hasn’t thought back over life while pondering the question, “What if…?”
What a tremendously imaginative and engaging book this is, unlike any kind of “time travel” I’ve read before. The only danger lies in dwelling on one’s regrets, while knowing in real life we cannot change a thing.
“Sometimes it was harder to change the past than it was the future.” (p. 495)

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15 thoughts on “Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

  1. Sounds like you maybe liked this one more than I did? Did it seem aimless to you by the end? Give you that unsettled (ok, pointless?) feeling it gave me?

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  2. I think I liked the first two-thirds very much; the last third? Not s much. I know what you mean about pointless, for Atkinson seemed to circle around her ideas as much as Ursula circled through her life. Are we to take that life is one big case of déjà vu? Or, are we somehow reincarnated? I even pondered Shakespeare's quote from Juliis Cesar that cowards die a thousand deaths, the valiant only one. But, I don't think Ursula was a coward as much as she was futile to change the events of life. Of history. Perhaps that is the ultimate point; it doesn't matter how many lives we live, the course of the world will continue on its way. Do you agree?

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  3. That's a really beautiful review! At this point, I've heard so much about this book that I don't think I will be able to read it anytime soon. But you've certainly intrigued me a lot.

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  4. Nice review, Bellezza! I got a few Kate Atkinson books last week when I went to a secondhand bookshop. They all seemed to be literary detective novels. Reading your review made me realize that she is a very fascinating writer who writes different kinds of novels. Glad to know that you liked this book so much, though you didn't like the last third as much as the first two-thirds. The 'Do over' aspect of the story and the game that you have seen children play made me think of an Anne Tyler book called 'Breathing Lessons' that I read recently in which one of the characters talks about living a draft version of life and trying out different things before living the actual version of the life she wants. Thanks for this wonderful review.

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  5. Pingback: The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck (A Spectacular Way to Begin the IFFP Long List) | Dolce Bellezza

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