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Life After Life: A Novel Paperback – January 7, 2014
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"Kate Atkinson is a marvel. There aren't enough breathless adjectives to describe Life After Life: Dazzling, witty, moving, joyful, mournful, profound. Wildly inventive, deeply felt. Hilarious. Humane. Simply put: It's one of the best novels I've read this century."―Gillian Flynn, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Gone Girl
"Life After Life is a masterpiece about how even the smallest choices can sometimes change the course of history. It's wise, bittersweet, funny, and unlike anything else you've ever read. Kate Atkinson is one of my all-time favorite novelists, and I believe this is her best book yet."―J. Courtney Sullivan, bestselling author of Maine and Commencement
"Kate Atkinson's new novel is a box of delights. Ingenious in construction, indefatigably entertaining, it grips the reader's imagination on the first page and never lets go. If you wish to be moved and astonished, read it. And if you want to give a dazzling present, buy it for your friends."―Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies
"An audacious, ambitious book that challenges notions of time, fate and free will, not to mention narrative plausibility...[Atkinson's] writing is funny and quirky and sharp and sad - calamity laced with humor - and full of quietly heroic characters who offer knowing Lorrie Moore-esque parenthetical asides...Atkinson's true genius is structure...Each version is entirely and equally credible."―Sarah Lyall, New York Times
"An exercise in narrative gutsiness; a meditation on history, contingency, and free will; and the best new novel I've read this year."―Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine
"[Atkinson's] latest novel, Life After Life, is her very best... A big book that defies logic, chronology and even history in ways that underscore its author's fully untethered imagination... Even without the sleight of hand, Life After Life would be an exceptionally captivating book with an engaging cast of characters... [Atkinson's] own writerly cradle was rocked by a very sure hand indeed."―Janet Maslin, New York Times
"Audacious, the kind of sweeping virtuoso epic that actually earns overheated book-jacket phrases like 'tour de force!'...Atkinson is a fantastic storyteller... It's all so richly imagined and ingeniously executed that the mystery feels right. Her domestic vignettes and wide-screen portraits of wartime resonate with startling physical and emotional clarity, and even her repetitions find fresh revelations... What Atkinson has mastered: shining a light on how full life is of choices and chance, and how lucky we are to live it."―Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
"The Blitz segments vibrate with life, as vivid and horrifying as a series of glimpses into a charnel house...The natural exuberance of Atkinson's prose is brought into sharp, precise control. Buried inside Life After Life is the best Blitz novel since Sarah Waters's The Night Watch."―Steve Donoghue, The Washington Post
"Fascinating... A tour de force that ponders memory and déjà vu-and puts history on a very human scale."―Parade
"[Atkinson] is nothing if not clever...A fine writer...filling the pages with a liveliness and intelligence...Ursula's quest to 'get it right' gradually becomes less important than Atkinson's talent to create such an entertaining and suspenseful story that tells many versions of the history of the 20th century."―Bob Hoover, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
About the Author
Kate Atkinson's first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, was named England's Whitbread Book of the Year in 1996. Since then, she has written seven more ground-breaking, bestselling books, most recently Started Early, Took My Dog. She lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
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The cover blurb provides a fair plot summary of the novel and I am sure other reviewers will rehash it over and over again as well, so I will spare you a plot summary here. Rather I want to remark on what makes this novel so brilliant for me - and it is not only the deep underlying philosophical and religious themes which will surely open wide this book to many interpretations - but its beautiful characters who break all stereotypes and its structure which is a masterpiece of narrative architecture.
Yes, many themes do permeate the story of Ursula Todd - everything from Plato's "Everything changes and nothing remains still," Buddhist principles of fate and reincarnation, Nietzsche's "amor fati" (Love of Fate), to Jungian explanations of "déjà vu," "synchronicity" and "collective unconsciousness," and that's just to name a few - but what really makes this novel stand out, what really makes it so amazing is how lightly, even unassumingly, and yet so impeccably Kate Atkinson treats such sophisticated and intellectual subject matter.
LIFE AFTER LIFE is the enthralling story of Ursula Todd, born to Hugh and Sylvie Todd in their home at Fox Corner, England on a bitterly cold, snowy night in February 1910. Ursula Todd also died on that very night before she could even draw her first breath. But her story does not end there - her death is not an ending but a new beginning, a beginning to another chance at life. And so it goes in Ursula's story of life after many deaths - a loop of lives so to speak, or the continuous circle of destiny, the karmic wheel of fate... life after life, after life.
Early in the novel we recognize Ursula as an "old soul" and in Kate Atkinson's strategy for telling the story of Ursula's multiple lives and deaths, the narrative progression through history will certainly resonant with readers familiar with the themes of déjà vu and reincarnation. Actually, I think every reader will be able to find resonance with this terrifically engaging narrative, regardless of the philosophical or religious subtexts. It is the intricate plotting through actual historical events which takes on an excitingly different cast - not the usual suspense of "What happens next?" but, to quote Ursula's brother Teddy; "What if you had the chance to do it again and again, until you finally got it right? Would you do it?"
This is a superb narrative tactic which leaves out the typically heavy handed authorial exposition of ordinary historical fiction and challenges us, the readers, while reflecting on Ursula's infinite lives, to discover and piece together for ourselves the puzzle of the social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual dynamics that governs all human experience and history.
Ursula is truly a remarkable character of depth whom we take interest in for her own sake as an individual and not for anything she might symbolize as a literary heroine. We are able to connect with her viscerally (and we do many times over). The other primary characters who populate her story are no less remarkable than she. Her family, her friends, her lovers, and even her Zen master-like psychiatrist are all highly believable individuals with whom we can easily identify.
LIFE AFTER LIFE is crafted impeccably with a language rich in stunning metaphors and poetic imagery. Its abundant literary allusions work well in the service of the emotions. At the same time the narrative manages to be unpretentiously intelligent, effortlessly witty, and deeply touching. Each episode in the many lives of Ursula produces an intense and lasting effect for the reader. They are tales of tenderness and poignancy, horror and outrage, pity and fear, laughter and jubilance, sorrow and grief. Few novels succeed in accomplishing as much.
Oh, my dear reading friends, how truly marvelous Kate Atkinson's LIFE AFTER LIFE is! Read this novel, please! I promise you that once you begin reading this book you too will find it difficult to put it down. And once you read it through to the last pages, I'm sure you too will want to turn back to its first pages to rethink the whole novel through again. To be sure, this is a masterpiece which deserves to be read again and again.
Ursula Todd was born on a cold February night in 1911. Though the cord was around her neck, the able doctor, who had thankfully been able to make it to make it through the storm, was able to cut the cord and the baby lived.
Over and over Ursula will be born and live and die.
Marvelously written and told, Ursula's many lives open up the possibilities of saving the world from the devastating effects of World War II. Details of life in England and Berlin during the terrible bombing raids of the war and a deep desire to prevent the war from ever happening, bring to mind the thoughts of "what if" and "if only". With such a clever and unusual theme, I so enjoyed this novel. Anyone who would listen got to hear me go on and on about it.
Inventive, philosophical and entertaining, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is brilliant!
Having read Behind the Scenes at the Museum and not being overly enthralled by the story I decided to give Atkinson another go and I am glad I did.
I enjoyed this book a lot. I believe Atkinson is a good writer and she proves herself in Life After Life with some clever writing about "what if..",which most of us must have pondered on at some time in our own lives. I know I have. "If I hadn't caught that bus...." and so on, how would my life have panned out?
Ursula is the main character and an appealing one at that. It is through her character that we live and relive her multiple lives according to circumstance or decisions she makes at the time. Ursula's decisions also have life altering effects on all those associated with her.All fascinating considerations; and I do admire the way in which Atkinson applies her theories. Very clever!
The characters are well developed; we get to know them well and they become so very real.
I would recommend Life After Life to anyone who enjoys an easy, well written read with a thought provoking plot.
Kate Atkinson, what can I say. I am in love. I don't know how I am just discovering her. I began early in the summer (maybe May) reading "Life After Life" and I was hooked. This is the story of Ursula Todd, who dies at birth in pre-World War I England when the doctor is waylaid thanks to a snowstorm. Or, it is the story of Ursula Todd, born in pre-World War I England because the doctor got there in time. And the book goes on, trudging through different tangents, all telling us how different Ursula's life, and the lives of those around her) could have been if she had done things slightly differently. Atkinson does the wonderfully, mapping out so many different paths that it made me think about the small choices I make every day.
Weird Bonus: The main character meets the author's interpretation of Ava Braun. Interesting.