Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

The concept of Kate Atkinson’s novel was intriguing to me from the first:

“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.”

Whether or not you believe in reincarnation, Life After Life makes a hauntingly memorable case for the possibility of second, third, fourth, and more chances at living one’s life.

Over the course of the story, Ursula Todd is born and dies multiple times. Each rebirth and subsequent life carries a touch – a smudge – of memory (or foreshadowing?) from the last go-round. An inexpiable fear when visiting the beach with her family as a five-year-old child. A terror that leads her to push the family’s maid, Bridget, down the stairs in a vain effort to prevent her from visiting Armistice Day celebrations. Bone-chilling terror at the sound of a particular man’s voice. It all seems the same . . . but different, too.

It’s the subtle details that weave in the various incarnations of Ursula Barrisford Todd that really show the masterful nature of Kate Atkinson’s work. The slight bits and pieces that remain buried in Ursula’s memory that change the course of each of her lives; it is, in a word, fascinating to read.

It’s funny, when I finished listening to the novel – read extremely well by narrator Fenella Woolgar – I was slightly ambivalent. I think, now, it was just a reluctance to let go of the story and the Todd family. As I write up my thoughts about Life After Life I realize that it’s not a four-star book, but a five-star book. One I can see myself going back and revisiting often.

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