Review: Life After Life

“History is all about ‘what ifs’”*

Image There was a lot of hype leading up to the release of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life—I saw this one on the Millions’ list, on ads on Goodreads, on people’s blog posts, on Amazon’s anticipated list, and on many other blogs and publications. I pre-ordered it to see what the fuss was about, but I was prepared to be disappointed. I guess I’m just pessimistic like that.

Other than one point about 2/3 of the way through when I got a little tired of poor Ursula screwing up her life and dying again, I LOVED this title. It has so many of the things that I love: a fantasy element, philosophical musing, history, real characters, a thought-provoking story-line.

Life After Life follows the life/lives of Ursula Todd, born in 1910 to a moderately well-off English family living in a town outside of London. Ursula is born dead—strangled on the umbilical cord. Then she’s born again, and this time she makes it—but then she dies of drowning. Or gas inhalation. Or falling. So she’s born again—and again, and again, and again, living out different scenarios of all the different choices that she makes throughout her life.  

It was so incredibly fascinating to see how miniscule choices can change the course of a life—the butterfly effect. What I found even more interesting, though, is Atkinson’s assumption that by making different choices, we shape our personality and the choices we make for years to come.

“’[Hitler]’s always been a politician. He was born a politician.’ No, Ursula thought, he was born a baby, like everyone else. And this is what he has chosen to become.” (360)

The choices & personality that we choose affects those around us—but not everyone. Some characters—Ursula’s aunt, her sister Pamela—were remarkably stable in their futures, while others—her mother, her brother Teddy—varied enormously in their choices. Do some of us have more potential for variation than others? Are some of us fated to some things? What can change, and what do we have a choice about?

I adored this book and all the things that it had me thinking about—the nostalgia of wondering what my life would look like if I had made different choices.

“I heard someone say once that hindsight was a wonderful thing, that without it there would be no history” (474).

The whole book—the whole wonderful, slightly-too-long opus—can be summed up in the one quote that I started this musing with. What if you had taken a different way home? What if you said no instead of yes? What if you travelled to Paris instead of Venice?  What would your life be like then?

I read this one straight through without stopping; I overcooked the spaghetti noodles for dinner because I was trying to read and cook simultaneously. Five stars.

*quote from page 473


8 thoughts on “Review: Life After Life

  1. I honestly hadn’t heard about this book until last week, when I read a review on another blog! Apparently, I live under a rock 😉 I looked for the book the other day when I was at the bookstore, and was a little disappointed in the Canadian cover – this one with roses is so much more dramatic. I definitely want to read this though – I ALWAYS think about things like that – what if I had done this instead, arrived 10 minutes earlier/later, etc, etc. Reminds me of that old movie Sliding Doors with Gweneth Paltrow, which I loved the concept of.

    • Obviously I must’ve hit some button somewhere that made goodreads think I needed to read this one bc I’ve been swing ads for everrr. But I absolutely love the concept–and Gwyneth Paltrow, so I definitely need to check out that movie–but I feel like if I applied it to my own life it would be PARALYZING. Like omg I took this way to work instead of that one…SOMEONE PROBABLY DIED BC I WASN’T THERE!

      You definitely need to read it so that this comment makes more sense and we can discuss the crazy. Also, now I have to go look up the CA cover. This is stupid, bc I was born in Canada and live 30 min from the border, but it never occurred to me that they would have a different cover like the UK does…

      • I’ve been told the Canadian cover “makes sense”…but I still prefer the American one. I just think that from a marketing standpoint, the American one definitely grabs my eye more. And I want to discuss the crazy! I hate paying full price for books, so I passed on picking it up the other day, but maybe I’ll see if it’s cheaper to order online….also, I now really want to rewatch Sliding Doors haha.

        • Ah. Looked it up & it does, technically, make more sense–the place where she lives is “Fox End,” so I get the fox, as opposed to the roses, which are simply dramatic & pretty…but you’re right, I prefer the US cover too. To me, it says less “Ann Patchett book club” & more “I’m exciting!”

          Ahhh I keep wanting to drop spoilers. Not that I want to contribute to fiscal irresponsibility…but buy it! But I’m totally with you on the crazy price of new hardcovers. It makes me wince when I figure out how many used paperbacks I could get for the same price. But I have no restraint–you’re one up on me there!

  2. Wow, this sounds a lot more interesting than I would’ve thought! Not sure why I didn’t think it would be since I haven’t heard much about it, but yeah! Now I totally wanna read it. Going to request this from the library soon 🙂


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