Review: Life After Life

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Page 555
Genre: Fiction, historical fiction
Published by: Back Bay Books, 2013
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: I think there is a certain sort of staying power to this novel simply because there are so many different storylines within it. But I won’t be revisiting this one.

Reviewed by Indiana

Spoiler-free review

The premise of this book was intriguing: a protagonist dies only to be reborn, again and again and again. Ursula Todd, said protagonist, was born in the early 1900s in England. From there, things get a little harried with a slew of slightly different to radically different storylines. In one Ursula dies because she falls out a window as a child, in another she doesn’t even make it out of the womb before she suffocates. In yet another, she and her sibling are taken by the plague.

At first it was a little repetitive. I was tired of reading the same sort of inevitable “darkness” (aka death) taking over Ursula’s view at the end of every chapter. But I got through it because Atkinson wrote each “version” in a slightly different way, adding in other details or changing things around just slightly. It also helped that in the very beginning of the book, as a sort of prelude, the author gives a glimpse into how Ursula will change history simply because she is able to be reborn and faintly remember her past lives.

Because of the time period the story takes place, Atkinson is able to explore the World Wars and a few other intense and interesting parts of history. There were several chapters where Ursula is volunteering to help pull people in London out of the wreckage left after frequent bombings. Even though it was tough to read it was one of my favorite aspects of the book. It made me realize just how much ordinary people (those with no heroic backgrounds or experience in healthcare) had to step up in London during that time. If most of a country’s military and emergency workers are fighting on the battlefield, all that’s left is civilians.

Throughout all the storylines, Ursula learns a bit more and remembers a bit more each time she lives. Each time she is reborn, she is able to find a way to save someone else from dying or from getting a deadly virus.

But there was a huge missing piece to this book. And I have a beef with it.

It was never explained how/why she was being reborn or reincarnated. At the beginning of the book, Ursula’s mother brings her into a psychologist because Ursula keeps mentioning all these things that she thinks she’s done before and hasn’t (at least in that life) and she sounds crazy. The psychologist talks with her about reincarnation and together they begin to explore how it works and ask why she’s like this.

Then that curtain falls and is never reopened.

I get that Ursula got to relive her life and live it right and was able to change the history of the world because of it, but I found it unbelievably frustrating that the author never returned to even attempt to answer the “how” or the “why.” I would’ve even taken a boring explanation for none at all.

Did anyone else feel the same way?

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