Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (4 out of 5)
For the record, you have an image of the hardcover. I have the paperback. I have read Kate Atkinson before; her Case Histories and Started Out Early, Took My Dog. Both of those novels elicited a less than enthusiastic response from this reader. Jeff of former Shazam! fame had somehow convinced me to read Case Histories (or maybe it was Donna, come to think of it. Not sure which of my former bookstore manager colleagues got me to read it) on a plane (I’m not a fan of flying, so a book of sudoku or a regular book were best ways to distract me) over Birmingham. It did not enhance the Birmingham experience. I don’t think I passed that book on. I read Started Out Early, Took My Dog because my co-worker at the new gig had liked it. It was just okay. It didn’t enchance the Burr Ridge experience. But again, she is so highly regarded that I figured I would read something and it would stick. This was finally that something.
A wildly inventive novel. Ursula Todd is born on a cold, wintry night in 1910. Then she dies. Then she’s born again, and then she dies. She does manage to grow older, but there’s the little matter of her dying and then being born again. How is that even possible? I was highly skeptical of this novel, but one of my regular customers really loved it, and he’s a tough nut to crack as far as approval for books, so I was willing to give it a shot. Ursula is one hell of a character- every time she’s born again, she faces a new set of challenges, decisions, and ultimately, the end- again. Does that change how she lives her life? Would it change yours? I think I liked the challenge of reading a book like this. It’s a lengthy book and it’s quite a page-turner in that you’re spent the entire 500-some pages trying to figure out how the fuck this is possible that this keeps happening to Ursula. You read on to find out, and then you either love it, or you hate it. All of the reviews I read on Goodreads and Crapazon were evenly divided between like and outright annoyance. I had moments of both, but I could not put it down. More importantly, I really liked Ursula as a character.
Overall, it is a bit tedious at parts, and I can see how someone would say “Screw it.” I just couldn’t do it. I gave a crap too much about Ursula, about the lives she touches as she wanders her way through life, and what is causing this, and how it is resolved (Is it resolved?). Atkinson did a great job setting this book up. My coworker Dan described it as Groundhog Day meets Quantam Leap meets World War II. I give you complete credit, Dan, that’s a fair summation of the overall book.
If you want a challenge, this is it. Don’t expect to get through this one quickly, but whether you love it or hate it because it’s too wordy, sometimes the things that are worth the most are the ones that take the longest. Definitely true (at moments) of this title. I really did like Kate Atkinson’s writing in this book, and she completely got my attention (not easy these days) with Ursula’s story. There are so many questions that come from this, and so many answers that really don’t touch the surface of the story unwinding. It’s all in how you approach the book and in how you view it overall. I thought totally worth the time it took to read it.