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Life After Life: A Novel Hardcover – April 2, 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2013: Every time Ursula Todd dies, she is born again. Each successive life is an iteration on the last, and we see how Ursula's choices affect her, those around her, and--so boldly--the fate of the 20th-century world. Most impressive is how Kate Atkinson keeps the complexity of her postmodern plotting so nimble. Life After Life approaches the universe in both the micro- and macro sense, balancing the interior lives of Ursula's friends and family with the weight of two World Wars. (How many writers can make domestic drama as compelling as the London Blitz?) Life After Life is an extraordinary feat of narrative ambition, an audacious genre-bender, and a work of literary genius. --Kevin Nguyen
*Starred Review* In a radical departure from her Jackson Brodie mystery series, Atkinson delivers a wildly inventive novel about Ursula Todd, born in 1910 and doomed to die and be reborn over and over again. She drowns, falls off a roof, and is beaten to death by an abusive husband but is always reborn back into the same loving family, sometimes with the knowledge that allows her to escape past poor decisions, sometimes not. As Atkinson subtly delineates all the pathways a life or a country might take, she also delivers a harrowing set piece on the Blitz as Ursula, working as a warden on a rescue team, encounters horrifying tableaux encompassing mangled bodies and whole families covered in ash, preserved just like the victims of Pompeii. Alternately mournful and celebratory, deeply empathic and scathingly funny, Atkinson shows what it is like to face the horrors of war and yet still find the determination to go on, with her wholly British characters often reducing the Third Reich to “a fuss.” From her deeply human characters to her comical dialogue to her meticulous plotting, Atkinson is working at the very top of her game. An audacious, thought-provoking novel from one of our most talented writers. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Atkinson’s publisher is pulling out all the stops in marketing her latest, which will no doubt draw in many new readers in addition to her Jackson Brodie fans. --Joanne Wilkinson
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The book is full of philosophical questions, but they do not intrude; it works brilliantly as a novel. The narrative carries the reader right along with the strongest of hooks: what will happen next (time)? The descriptions of time and place are haunting, particularly those of World War II London. The characters are rounded, and some engaged at least this reader emotionally. And they are diverse -- Ursula, of course, is not the only one whose life follows a different pattern in her various iterations, and it becomes almost a game to figure out what has changed for which character. The ending is mysterious, but that is appropriate a novel that explores so many possibilities.
She comes back as the same baby in the same family and with the same life, but a strong sense of deja vu allows her to correct mistakes and avert tragedies that plagued her earlier lives--until she is finally able to do the ultimate deed for humanity. But does she really succeed and change history?
This is an intriguing, very readable book that seems so real and actually feasible--even though you know it's absolutely not. (Or is it?) Best of all, it's funny! And that is quite a feat considering the bulk of the story takes place during the brutality of World War II, especially the Blitz in London.
This book is a testament to author Kate Atkinson's imagination, storytelling creativity and literary genius. Read it!
Everyone will have their own interpretation of the meaning of this book. It certainly precipitates thought and discussion. It's about possibilities, and the role of choices, and the role of chance in life. It's also about the power of the novelist to lure the reader -- and perhaps herself -- into that "willing suspension of disbelief" that critics talk about. The interweaving of many stories makes us understand the power that stories have over us.
This all sounds very trendy, but the book is fascinating -- if the reader can tolerate some perplexity.