Book Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson


I’m not sure if I liked this book or not. It’s very…novelly.

First off, I don’t like the cover. Superficial? Yes but I stand by it.  The version of the book I had was the black grey cover with a red rose. It didn’t fit with the feel or the style of this piece.  The alternate version is much better and feels like a better fit for the story. See?

Much better.

On to what matters…

The official description from the jacket:

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, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.


I’m always amazed at huge complex stories and the fact that writers are out there, in the real world, just strolling around with such epic and well thought ideas.  Life After Life is a big complex messy story. Did I like it? I’m not sure.  Kudos to Atkinson for mapping out such a crazy story map.

I spent a bit of the book flipping back to the first 100 or so pages, trying to remember who was who or who did what. There are a lot of characters thrown at the reader,  new ones all throughout, and it can be a little confusing.  Some of the characters, especially later in the book, were introduced and given a backstory that wasn’t really necessary. If a character is going to be killed off before the chapter is done (and not reintroduced like many were), I don’t need to know their history.  Because of this, certain sections were slow and sludgy to get through.

The time shifts are what makes this book, it’s the basis of the entire concept of the story.  Ursula is born, dies, is born again, lives, dies, we back up a little bit in time and Ursula is back again unknowingly repeating the same events with a little voice in her head saying ‘wait! You must act here!’  The only problem with this is that, unless you pay STRICT attention to the dates noted at the beginning of each chapter, you get lost for a few pages trying to figure out where in Ursula’s timeline we’ve jumped back to.

This is another book that needed to cut away a bit, trim away about 50-75 pages of content and I may have liked it more.  The biggest problem?  I’m not sure I really cared about Ursula. Like, at all. She’s not a sympathetic character, aside from the abusive marriage she found herself in during one version of her life, and there’s really no connection that is made with her. Even in a book that opens with the main character killing Hitler (Yep! That Hitler) and set against the backdrop of World War II, things feel….slow. There were a handful of times when I found myself hoping that she would hurry up and die so we could move on to a better part of the story.

Overall? I wasn’t blow away by the story or completely wrapped up in it. Once I put the book down, I had to force myself to pick it back up later.  If you enjoy reading books for the achievement of the writer and the written word, you’ll probably like this book. If you need books to be exciting the whole way through, this might be one you pass on.

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