It’s pretty rare for me to read a book that I instantly know I’ll reread. I’ve written ad nauseum on this blog about not having time for rereads, and the panic that this lack of time has induced, so it’s a true testament to a book when I finish it and think ‘I’m definitely going to read that again one of these days’. The last time I thought that was when I finished The Luminaries, although it was equal parts ‘holy shit I’m confused, I’mma need to reread that guy’ and ‘hot damn that was a good book’. Anyway, all this is a really long-winded way of saying that I loved Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and I’m definitely going to reread it some day.
Life After Life is the story of Ursula Todd, a normal girl born in 1920 in England. Normal, except that every time she dies she is reborn, giving her multiple chances to right the wrongs of previous lives. Although she has only a very limited knowledge of what is happening to her: in some lives it seemed as though she had no idea at all, while in others she was able to consciously manipulate events to change the outcome.
Before you pass on this because you think it sounds gimmicky, I can assure you that it’s not; it’s absolutely beautiful. The writing is stunning, it’s well-crafted and perfectly executed. It had me laughing, crying, cheering and chewing my nails with anxiety.
The book follows Ursula through her various lives, from her birth to her many deaths, but for me it is the lives in the centre of the book, when she is in her twenties and thirties living (and not living) through the Blitz in London and/or Berlin, that are the standout chapters. Atkinson’s vivid accounts of the bombings and Ursula’s seeming inability to escape certain deaths are both harrowing and touching.
I fell a little bit in love with Ursula – she’s such a great character. Every time she died and then managed to avert a certain nasty situation or event in the next life, I was whooping with joy.
It’s not a perfect book, there were times when I found myself a bit confused about which life we were in, but then I figured they’re all Ursula’s lives, so what does it matter? I also found the very first chapter and the very last chapter to be surprising, if a little disconcerting, ways to begin and end the book, but, thankfully, everything in between was magical.