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Life After Life

Life After Life 4

Winner of the Costa Novel Award

by Kate Atkinson
Publication Date: 03/02/2014
5/5 Rating 4 Reviews
RRP  $22.99 $19.50

This is the winner of the costa novel award.

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath. During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale. What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life's bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

Contemporary fiction
Publication Date:
Transworld Publishers Ltd
Country of origin:
United Kingdom
Dimensions (mm):
Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson won the Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year prize with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Her four bestselling novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie became the BBC television series Case Histories, starring Jason Isaacs.

Her 2013 novel Life After Life won the South Bank Sky Arts Literature Prize, was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize, voted Book of the Year for the independent booksellers associations on both sides of the Atlantic. It also won the Costa Novel Award, as did her new novel A God in Ruins (2015).

She was appointed MBE in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, and was voted Waterstones UK Author of the Year at the 2013 Specsavers National Book Awards.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating

5 / 5 (4 Ratings)
5 stars (6)
4 stars (1)
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  • Another brilliant offering from this exceptional author

    by on

    Life After Life is a book of the Todd Family by award-winning British author, Kate Atkinson. Ursula Todd is born during a snowstorm on the night of 11th February, 1910. She does this again and again, and this fact (amongst others) remains constant throughout the telling of Ursula’s lives, but, of course, there are also differences.

    When, seemingly through chance, she does survive her birth, and the trials and potentially fatal mishaps that plague her childhood, Ursula’s lives revolve around the family that inhabits Fox Corner, parents, siblings, a rather wild paternal aunt who visits, neighbours and friends.

    As an adult, Ursula’s life, along with those around her, is profoundly affected by war. Her favourite brother, Teddy loses his life when he is shot down over Berlin. But is there something she can do to stop seemingly inevitable events from occurring?

    What a talented author Kate Atkinson is! She explores the idea that one might be able to change history, given enough chances, and does so in a familiar setting, with characters that easily find their way into the reader’s heart (well, except for Maurice, that is). Add to that the interesting perspectives of certain well-known events: the London Blitz from the perspective of an Air Raid Precautions warden; the bombing of Berlin from the point of view of the German common people.

    Atkinson’s depth of research is apparent in every chapter. Each of Ursula’s incarnations reveals a little more of the family, their history and character, as well as historic events like the influenza epidemic of 1918. From a literary perspective, the use of multiple incarnations is a novel device that allows her to try out a multitude of different life events with just one character.

    While this is nothing like her Jackson Brodie books, fans of her work will not be disappointed. Luckily, they will be able to extend the pleasure (and get another dose of the Todd family and Fox Corner) in the companion volume, A god In Ruins. Another brilliant offering from this exceptional author.

  • Life After Life

    by on

    Ursula Todd is living out her own ‘choose your own adventure’ in “Life After Life”. From the very moment she’s born, there are choices that are made that impact upon her survival. The slightest change in company, weather or conversation lets events unfold in a kaleidoscope of different alternatives.

    The aim for Ursula is very clear – survival. What combination of events will steer her towards a longer existence? She realizes early on what her role is in determining her future, but Ursula can often take a passive role in her own fate. The level of passivity determines how long Ursula will be of this world. With hindsight, she’s able to correct the mistakes made previously, and live just that little bit longer.

    Interspersed with existential philosophy – Nietzsche at the forefront, there are questions raised about how much one can control fate – amor fati –the acceptance of the events that occur in one’s life.

    There’s many ways in which to enjoy this novel. There’s a rich visual world that Atkinson has created, and the language used is superb – a magical England is summonsed up from the words on the page. There’s also the ability to self reflect when reading this book upon one’s on life and choices. Akin to the parallel worlds/sliding doors theory made popular by Hugh Everitt, you can ponder your decisions and pathways you’ve embarked upon, and whether a split second, or credence to ones intuition could mean an entirely different outcome is perhaps the most interesting aspect of all, and making the novel so personal is Atkinsons true strength.

    Life after Life can be tedious, yes. There are many repetitive passages with slight changes, and it would be easy to think that you’re reading and rereading the same chapters over and over, and as such, there are many who will not agree with the novel. That’s ok, it’s abstract and not to everyone’s liking! Although the reviews seem to maintain a polar opposite approach – love or hate, and in these types of reactions there are often gems of stories, only the best elicit such strong responses.

  • An adult Choose Your Own Adventure, without the choice

    by on

    While reading Kate Atkinson's Life After Life I was reminded of the Choose Your Own Adventure books I read as a child, with multiple fingers inserted in pages to try to determine what choice was not going to lead to death. When I did die, as was usually the case, I went back to the beginning to start all over again, much as our protagonist Ursula Todd does.

    Unlike me, however, Ursula does not have the benefit of knowing which previous choices were poor ones (although there is some sense of her knowing things at a subconscious level.) As we progress through her lives, and deaths, we are faced with a myriad of story arcs of varying lengths, depending on how long Ursula survives them. At times I was glad of her death, as it released her from some horrible situation, at other times I mourned them as her life was going so beautifully, and I knew it would be unlikely I met again some of the characters peopling it which I'd grown to love.

    Theoretically this book could have gone on and on, with Ursula constantly being reborn, however realistically that would have been awkward and perhaps a bit tedious. Atkinson knows when to stop, even if I kind of wish she didn't.

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