Review: Life After Life- Kate Atkinson
“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
Fate, second chances and rebirth are just some of the themes that Atkinson explores in her writing, making Life After Life one of the most layered and complex novels that I have ever read. But the critics, book clubs and reviewers were right: it is a dazzling read and I absolutely loved it.
Atkinson asks us what would happen if we had a chance to live our lives over and over again. What if we had second chances, an opportunity to take a different path so our lives turn out to be completely different to the one we are living now?
It is such an enthralling idea to me that I was immediately pulled into the narrative. Atkinson invites the reader to take part; it seems every time we become immersed into the life of the main character, Ursula Todd, it comes to a stop and then it starts again, only in a totally different set of circumstances. It seems almost too simple; a girl born to live her life. To make decisions and when she chooses the bad ones she dies, indicated by ‘darkness fell.’ But is is so much more than that. She is reborn to live and choose from a collage of so many different lives but she always returns as Ursula, and is always surrounded by the same, Todd family.
The novel opens in February 1910. A woman is giving birth to her third child in a house in the middle of countryside. Snow is everywhere, she is trapped from the outside world with only her maid and cook for help, and the midwife cannot reach her. She gives birth to a baby girl with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. It is too late for her.
In another set of circumstances that same woman is trapped in the house giving birth with snow outside. This time around though, a Doctor Fellowes has made it through the cold weather and is by her side. He is able to cut the umbilical cord and Ursula Todd lives, and has a second chance at life.
And this is how the novel progresses. Her second chances always seem to get better as the novel goes on, and it is a relief as a reader to know she has missed a horrifying death that we only just witnessed in the previous chapter, but do not get too comfortable- Ursula’s near-misses and brushes with death are always unpredictable- from drowning in the icy depths of the English coast to falling from the roof of her house. There is many more and always with the ability to shock. Ursula herself lives her life with only vague recollections of a past life and the sense she has been here before. She seems alert to various dangers because she has already lived this life.
But this is in no way a clichéd novel of a second chance at life. The story is so human- about paths that are available to us, and how we are blind at knowing which is the best one to take.
One of the best aspects of Life After Life was its backdrop of war time Britain. I have read so many novels with this same theme but none were as vivid or haunting as the descriptions that Atkinson offers to us, from a viewpoint of someone who lived in that very frightening period of time. This balanced with the near to perfect ‘Englishness’ of some of its characters, away from the blackened settings of London was just fantastic. Atkinson did a remarkable job. You could almost step into its pages, right up until the point that Ursula has a gun pointed at Hitler’s head. But you’ll have to read it yourself to find out how she managed to make her way there.
Do I recommend you to read it? Yes
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy