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Rated 3.75
58,946 ratings

Life After Life

By: Kate Atkinson

Publisher: Hachette Trade

Imprint: Reagan Arthur Books

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780316176484

Other Formats:

Electronic | Audio

On Sale: | Pages: 544

  • About the Book
  • Reviews
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.
Atkinson's juggling a lot at once — and nimbly succeeds in keeping the novel from becoming confusing. Even so, reading the book is a mildly vertiginous experience, rather like using the “scenes” function on a DVD to scramble the film's original order. At times “Life After Life” suggests a cross between Noël Coward's “Brief Encounter” and those interactive “hypertext” novels whose computer-savvy readers can determine the direction of the story.... “Life After Life” makes the reader acutely conscious of an author's power: how much the novelist can do.... Atkinson sharpens our awareness of the apparently limitless choices and decisions that a novelist must make on every page, and of what is gained and lost when the consequences of these choices are, like life, singular and final.
—New York Times
Ms. Atkinson's new novel, "Life After Life," soars above anything she's done before.... Ms. Atkinson, like her two brilliant English contemporaries, has crafted an experimental novel that appeals to traditional readers.... "Life After Life" is novelistic comfort food, something to consume when "Downton Abbey" isn't on.
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Life After Life" is not a mystery in the traditional sense. It is not a traditional novel at all, in fact, with its stops and starts, its looping repetitions; Atkinson builds a fully realized world by accruing a constellation of possibilities.... At first it can be a bit difficult to invest in each successive storyline emotionally, given that it might abruptly end and start over at any point. Though, to Atkinson's great credit, the book almost miraculously never feels repetitive -- each retelling of an event gives a slightly shifted perspective, with new insights into various characters and the world they inhabit.... "Life After Life" is such a generous, moving novel; I cried more than once, and I rarely cry at fiction.... Perhaps above all "Life After Life" is a fantastically ambitious novel, seeking to capture the complexity and momentousness of life itself, which succeeds on every level, and it is one of the best I've read in years.
—Portland Oregonian
Atkinson has always created memorable, believable characters, and Life After Life teems with them.... Another of Atkinson's trademarks is the multilayered, complex plot full of startling twists. Life After Life is a turbo-charged version of that, but I don't want to portray it as a dry puzzle book that requires the reader to make notes and connect every dot, or an esoteric exercise in fictional technique. Life After Life has often stunningly beautiful prose, wry humor and heart-wrenching emotion, deeply human characters and enduring mysteries, and, above all, brilliant storytelling that will propel you through every one of Ursula's lives. Don't let your current life go by without reading it.
—St. Petersburg Times
The gifted Atkinson, best known for the excellent suspense series that began with Case Histories, is clever and talented enough to build on this shifting foundation, and she tells the story of Ursula's odd existence with enough twists and revelations to keep the reader guessing. She's so adept at propelling us through this hefty novel, which flits through both World Wars and beyond, that we're able to temporarily overlook the first two pages, in which Ursula employs the most egregious cliche available to alternative histories.... Life After Life isn't science fiction; it's ambitious literary fiction exploring the nature of destiny and what we might do to change it if we could. But even fantasy has to make sense on its own terms, and the book falls short of that goal. Still, there's much to treasure here...
—Miami Herald
I tallied 17 lives for Ursula, but Atkinson handles these transitions so deftly I might have miscounted. Why does Ursula keep coming back? To kill Hitler? To save a loved one? To grow in empathy for the difficulty of lives lived anywhere? All of the above? Atkinson tantalizes but does not state outright. Playfully, she also threads the novel with grace notes about choices and time, such as allowing Ursula to buy the yellow party dress in one life that she denied herself in an earlier one.
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
This “Groundhog Day”-like premise — that Ursula is fated (or doomed) to relive her life until she gets it right — is at the core of a novel that's sure to be one of the most talked-about books of the year. “Life After Life” is a dazzling juggling act that plays with chronology, conventional narrative and the meaning of existence.
—Seattle Times
Atkinson has crafted a narrative that pushes us to think about our own choices — less the things we might put on a résumé than how we respond to a surprise kiss on our birthday. Ursula is one woman, rendered in multiple iterations, which makes this a story about the creation of self. That's no small feat, although if there is a flaw in this fantastic novel, it's that some of Ursula's narratives are so compelling, so convincing, that it is hard to imagine her ending up any other way.
—Los Angeles Times
[Atkinson] has built on the sprawling, multi-dimensional characteristics of her detective fiction in this novel...as she gradually introduces readers not only to Ursula's vivid inner life but also to the dozens of people whose lives she touches, time after time. LIFE AFTER LIFE is Kate Atkinson at her brilliantly inventive best.
—Bookreporter.com
...a densely layered, century-sprawling work that is a formidable bid for the brass ring of the U.K.'s prestigious Man Booker Prize.... This high-concept premise blends uneasily with what is otherwise a deft and convincing portrayal of an English family's evolution across two world wars.... One of the pleasures of "Life After Life" is watching these characters grow and change.... You're left with the unsavory impression that Ms. Atkinson finds the entire issue of Ursula's reincarnations not interesting in themselves but simply useful as a means of connecting the small, discrete stories she wants to write. That impression is bolstered by how marvelous Ms. Atkinson's writing can be when she isn't barking her shins against her narrative gimmick.
—Wall Street Journal
For long stretches in this long novel, Ursula no more thinks about Hitler than he thinks about her. The book is at its best in those stretches. Haphazardly grafted onto the story of a young woman who is constantly reincarnated is the story of a young woman trying to cope with the brutality of wartime London. In other parts of the book, Atkinson's period research can be heavy-handed, with characters going out of their way to call cigarettes “gaspers” or reel off a half-dozen now-defunct brand names. But the Blitz segments vibrate with life, as vivid and horrifying as a series of glimpses into a charnel house.
—Washington Post
For all its contradictions, Life After Life is revealing and straightforward. It's in many ways a story of the British people before and after both world wars. As Julian Fellowes does in Downton Abbey, Atkinson takes us into the homes and hearts of mothers and families as they send their boys off to the trenches of Europe and the disabling gas attacks and explosions that severed limbs and families forever.... Originality is the jumping-off point for this especially unique novel, and readers looking for something fresh should take a chance. Readers already in love with Atkinson's novels, and equally besotted with Jackson Brodie, will be just as pleased with the life — the lives — of Ursula Todd.
—USA Today
It would be easy to dismiss [Atkinson] as an exceptionally deft maker of crime plots if she weren't such a fine writer, a skill displayed in “Life After Life” with its vivid characters centered around Ursula's large family.... Ursula's quest to “get it right” gradually becomes less important than Atkinson's talent to create such an entertaining and suspenseful story that tells many versions of the history of the 20th century.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Life After Life” is a big book that defies logic, chronology and even history in ways that underscore its author's fully untethered imagination.... [U]nlike some of her more random-seeming books, like the 2011 “Started Early, Took My Dog,” this one connects its loose ends with facile but welcome clarity.... Even without the sleight of hand, “Life After Life” would be an exceptionally captivating book with an engaging cast of characters.... Wartime also inspires one of Ursula's brothers to want to write about the human condition. “A writer?” their mother says. “I fear the hand of the evil fairy rocked his cradle.” On the evidence of this book, Ms. Atkinson can afford to joke about that. Her own writerly cradle was rocked by a very sure hand indeed.
—New York Times
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