Life after Life
by Kate Atkinson
Little, Brown and Company, 2013. 529 pgs. Fiction.
Ursula Todd no sooner dies than she is reborn on a snowy day in February, 1910. Sometimes she dies at birth, during the London Blitz, or by suicide, yet her life is always reset to the beginning. Apart from the fact that she (occasionally) survives two world wars, her lives are generally unremarkable: she may marry, once has a child, frequently works for the civil service, and almost always has an affair with an admiral. As she accrues more and more lifetimes of experience, Ursula gradually becomes aware of her strange, never-ending life, which adds a depth and urgency to her attempts to find purpose.
Life After Life can feel like a writer’s experiment, a way for Atkinson to exhaust the possibilities of a character, but it is also a deeply affecting attempt to answer fundamental questions about life. If we were to live again and again, would we eventually get it right? And what does ‘right’ mean for a given individual? Atkinson doesn’t provide a straightforward answer to these problems, but her manner of fictionalizing philosophic and religious claims proves much more thought-provoking than an extracted quote or treatise ever could. Perfect for book clubs and reading groups.