100 Essential Books – Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (2013)



I don’t know how this book has passed me by up to now. It won the Costa Novel Award in 2013 and features some of the same characters as her 2015 Costa Novel award winning (and equally prestigiously the Nudge Bookhugger Book of The Year 2015) “A God In Ruins.”  I chose not to read that from The Bookhugger shortlist as I hadn’t read this.  Now I have I cannot wait to pick up a copy of her latest.

I have very much enjoyed the Kate Atkinson novels I’ve read to this point but she hadn’t really blown me away to the extent that I thought she would but she’s put that right as this is a mind-blowing book.

The little I knew about it concerned its structure, spanning in time from 1910 and the birth of the main character Ursula.  I knew it stuttered along and when tragedy befalls Ursula it begins again.  I had one of my “style over substance” concerns and I have friends who told me they just couldn’t get along with it, but, open-minded as ever, I thought I’d give it a go as I sensed that with this and the follow-up I could be missing out on something very special.

I loved the structure.  I’m not plot-spoiling by saying in Ursula’s first incarnation she is still-born so the story starts again with a slightly different aspect for her to survive childbirth and then fall foul on a day at the beach.  It inches forward in time and it is always a surprise when Ursula prematurely meets her maker.  As the perils of childhood diminish this happens less frequently but then there are the way years to contend with.  Ursula senses some of these repeats as “déjà vu” which leads to attention from a psychiatrist who tells her a little about reincarnation.  “Practice makes perfect” is a theme underlying the whole novel.

Disregarding the structure, this book has in place everything needed for an excellent novel.  Atkinson is in total control of events and her characters and there is such a rich and memorable cast that it is no surprise she decided to revisit through the eyes of Ursula’s much-loved brother Teddy in “A God In Ruins.”  There’s a superb sense of the era, particularly in the war years section.  The sheer relentlessness of the Blitz and the nightly tragedies witnessed brings home that survival really was just a matter of luck and throughout the novel one small change in actions can bring about very different outcomes- also largely down to luck.  If I were a more philosophical person I feel I could really get down with analysing all this, nevertheless, for a general reader the whole thing is extremely entertaining.

I didn’t want it to end and which is the real ending anyway?  Ursula’s choices can be as small as opting to approach a frightened do to having world-changing significance.  I loved the way the seemingly trivial and world-shattering go along side by side.  I’m going to give no more away but if you like tales that span over decases and are prepared for the author to play with time then you are likely to love this as much as I do.


“Life After Life” was published in 2013 by Doubleday.

12 thoughts on “100 Essential Books – Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (2013)

  1. I tend to like authors who play with firm, so this sound like the kind of book I would read. I just recently read a book that plays with firm called The History of Great Things. The review is on my blog, if you’re interested. It was posted this post Monday.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve read your review. That sounds interesting too. Here it is form and time that is being played around with- slightly like “The Time Traveller’s Wife” but much more so


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