Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Life After Life is a compelling novel about a woman who lives her life over and over again, with the smallest of changes each time having large (or small, or nearly nonexistent) results. I found myself very drawn to it while reading because it’s an innovative structure that doesn’t come off as gimmicky once you get going: similarly, what could be intolerably repetitive in the hands of a different writer (the main character, Ursula, is literally living her life over and over and over again without fully being aware of it, after all) never seems repetitive here. Atkinson handles the material deftly. Even though, through the course for the book, we find ourselves going through dozens of different alternate futures for Ursula, it’s always clear which possibility we’re in, and almost always what choice resulted in this different possible future. The choices that changes Ursula’s destiny are often her own, but nearly as often it’s something seemingly inconsequential that someone else does or says: for example, whether the doctor arrives on time or not to Ursula’s birth.
On a thematic level, the author explores the consequences of one’s actions, and wades into philosophical -esque questions like, “If you somehow sort of knew that Hitler was going to turn out to be a bad guy, would you kill him if you could before he came to power?” To me, though, those aren’t the most successful parts of this novel, because I felt that they weren’t quite developed enough (and, in the case of Hitler, only included to make things more dramatic or sensationalistic). Does Ursula actually become aware enough of the fact that she can remember alternate versions of the future to know the devastation this man will influence on the world? It’s never quite clear. Regardless, Life After Life is very entertaining.
This book is targeted at the general adult fiction reader; I feel like readers who enjoyed Atonement by Ian McEwan or The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger will also enjoy reading this. (And, as with both of those titles, I think that a movie version is a strong possibility in the future.) Even though Life After Life is quite a long book (the ARC is 475 pages), it reads quickly, like a much shorter book. I feel confident that it will be a popular book this year.
Reviewed by Kelsey Attard