It’s a snowy night in 1910 and Ursula Todd is struggling to breathe as the umbilical cord chokes her to death before she can barely experience birth. Darkness falls.
It’s a snowy night in 1910 and Ursula Todd is born with the help of Dr. Fellowes, who has arrived in time to help mother Sylvie with this tricky birth. And so Ursula’s life begins, until she drowns on a beach trip as a child. Darkness falls.
It’s a snowy night in 1910 and Ursula Todd is born, continuing to relive her life. Each time she instinctually learns to avoid what troubles occurred in a past (or parallel) life, feeling merely like déjà vu. Kate Atkinson’s newest novel Life After Life is a trippy, humorous exploration of life and fate. Ursula’s continuous lives take her through both World Wars, with devastating and intriguing consequences. Atkinson effortlessly captures each time period, with a sharp wit reminiscent of Forster or Waugh.
If the premise sounds too gimmicky, I can assure you it doesn’t read as such. Atkinson makes it easy to get involved in this single life, with crossover themes, characters, moments, that only serve to enrich each new chapter instead of making it feel like a tedious retread of the same events. If Dan Brown’s Inferno is an obvious, thriller page-turner, Life After Life is one of those rare literary page-turners that will keep you up into the wee hours of the night.
I’ve already declared The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards as the best novel of 2013—or at least my favorite book of the year—but Life After Life could easily rival it. Both are entertaining, addicting, witty, incisive, and thought-provoking. I continue to think about the lives of Ursula and their implications, and I’m already eager to reread the novel.