Life After Life (novel)

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Life After Life
Life After Life (novel) cover image.jpg
First U.S. edition, 2013
AuthorKate Atkinson
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreHistorical fiction
Published2013 (Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown and Company)
Media typePrint (hardcover, paperback)
Pages529 (1st edition, hardcover)
ISBN9780316176484
OCLC806015209
Followed byA God in Ruins 

Life After Life is a 2013 novel by Kate Atkinson. It is the first of two novels about the Todd family. The second, A God in Ruins, was published in 2015.

Plot[edit]

The novel has an unusual structure, repeatedly looping back in time to describe alternative possible lives for its central character, Ursula Todd, who is born on 11 February 1910 to an upper-middle-class family near Chalfont St Peter in Buckinghamshire. In the first version, she is strangled by her umbilical cord and stillborn. In later iterations of her life she dies as a child - drowning in the sea, or when saved from that, by falling to her death from the roof when trying to retrieve a fallen doll. Then there are several sequences when she falls victim to the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 - which repeats itself again and again, though she already has a foreknowledge of it, and only her fourth attempt to avert catching the flu succeeds.

Then there is an unhappy life where she is traumatized by being raped, getting pregnant and undergoing an illegal abortion, and finally becoming trapped in a highly oppressive marriage, and being killed by her abusive husband when trying to escape. In later lives she averts all this by being preemptively aggressive to the would-be rapist. In between, she also uses her half-memory of earlier lives to avert the neighbour girl Nancy being raped and murdered by a child molester. The saved Nancy would have an important role in Ursula's later life(s), forming a deep love relationship with Ursula's brother Teddy, and would become a main character in the sequel, A God in Ruins.

Still later iterations of Ursula's her life take her into World War Two, where she works in London for the War Office and repeatedly witnesses the results of the Blitz including a direct hit on a bomb shelter in Argyll Road in November 1940 - with herself being among the victims in some lives and among the rescuers in others. There is also a life in which she marries a German in 1934, is unable to return to England and experiences the war in Berlin under the allied bombings.

Ursula eventually comes to realize, through a particularly strong sense of deja vu, that she has lived before, and decides to try to prevent the war by killing Adolf Hitler in late 1930.[1] Memory of her earlier lives also provides the means of doing that: the knowledge that by befriending Eva Braun - in 1930 an obscure shop girl in Munich - Ursula would be able to get close to Hitler with a loaded gun in her bag; the inevitable price, however, is to be herself shot to death by Hitler's Nazi followers immediately after killing him.

What is left unclear - since each of the time sequences end with "darkness" and Ursula's death and does not show what followed - is whether in fact all these lives actually occurred in an objective world, or were only subjectively experienced by her. Specifically, whether or not her killing Hitler in 1930 actually produced an altered timeline where the Nazis did not take power in Germany, or possibly took power under a different leader with a different course of the Second World War. Though in her 1967 incarnation Ursula speculates with her nephew on this "might have been", the book avoids giving a clear answer.

Critical reaction[edit]

The Guardian gave the book a positive review, finding it conveyed both the changing social circumstances of 20th century Britain, and the particular details of the character's day-to-day life, in addition to the pleasures offered by the narrative format.[2] The Daily Telegraph likewise praised it, calling it Atkinson's best book to date.[3] The Independent found the central character to be sympathetic, and argued that the book's central message was that World War II was preventable and should not have been allowed to happen.[1]

Awards and honours[edit]

It won the 2013 Costa Book Awards (Novel).[4][5] It was shortlisted for the 2013 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction,[6] Waterstones Book of the Year (2013), and the Walter Scott Prize (2014).[7] It was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review,[8] an ALA Notable Books for Adults (2014), The Morning News Tournament of Books (Zombie Selection and Finalist 2014), Goodreads Choice Awards (Historical Fiction 2013), Andrew Carnegie Medal longlist (2014), The South Bank Show Annual Award for Literature (2014).

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Hore, Rachel (9 March 2013). "Life After Life, By Kate Atkinson (review)". The Independent (UK). Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  2. ^ Clark, Alex (6 March 2013). "Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (review)". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  3. ^ Brown, Helen (22 Apr 2013). "Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (review)". The Daily Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  4. ^ "BBC News - Former winners recapture Costa prize". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-06.
  5. ^ Mark Brown (26 November 2013). "Costa book awards 2013: late author on all-female fiction shortlist". The Guardian. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  6. ^ "The winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction 2013 is A M Homes for May We Be Forgiven". Booktrust. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
  7. ^ "Walter Scott Prize Shortlist 2014". Walter Scott Prize. 4 April 2014. Archived from the original on 15 April 2014. Retrieved May 27, 2014.
  8. ^ New York Times (2013). "The 10 Best Books of 2013". Retrieved 7 December 2013.