This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? This is the very enticing strapline of Life After Life. I am a huge Kate Atkinson fan, love Behind the Scenes at the Museum and all of the Jackson Brodie novels, and I had been dying to read this book even before I started hearing amazing things about it. I came to it with high expectations.
Ursula Todd is born in England in 1910. Her birth is not straightforward and, in one version of events, she doesn’t survive. But in another she does. As she grows, a young child when her father leaves to fight in the First World War, she faces the challenges of being a woman in twentieth century England.
Sometimes Ursula survives and sometimes she doesn’t, but when she doesn’t, she gets the chance to go back and relive certain moments, changing the course of her future. She gets déjà vu and often has a sense of impending doom, but the future is still unknown, and her new path always has fresh challenges.
One thing that this book reminded of – which I promise you doesn’t remotely do it justice – is the ‘choose your own adventure’ series, where you picked the fate of the main character, and when they (inevitably) died, you tried to work your way backwards, then forwards again to a happier ending. Ursula seems to have this ability, to sense where she has gone wrong, and to try and put it right. She isn’t always successful. With such an original, startling premise, the structure of the book is unusual. However, the characters – Ursula, her brothers and sisters, her parents Sylvie and Hugh, even the doctor who appears so fleetingly, are instantly whole, round people, and I was soon immersed in Ursula’s unusual life. Kate Atkinson’s writing is full of the same warmth, humour, beautiful language and emotion as in her other novels. As Ursula has to live and relive her experience of the Second World War, and the London Blitz, I had a permanent lump in my throat, unable to see beyond the page to the calm of my living room and the sunshine outside.
Strands of plot and minor characters are weaved throughout each retelling, so that I really got a sense of What If. ‘What if Ursula had just . . .’ or ‘what if that character had only . . .’ When Ursula’s choices take her down a particularly harrowing path, I found myself wishing she could go back, retrace a few chapters and pick a different option. But, of course, it’s not ever that simple.
Ursula has more than her fair share of tragedies and triumphs, loves and losses, and I lived through them all with her. I have to be predictable and jump on the Life After Life bandwagon. This book is extraordinary. It is beautiful and sad and funny, imaginative and compelling. It is overflowing with life.