Review: Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

Synopsis: 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?

Title: Life After Life
Author: Kate Atkinson
Publisher: Black Swan
Pub Date: 30th January 2014
Pages: 622
ISBN: 9780552776639

Rating: 5stars

Never judge a book by its cover. I’ve been told this again and again, I’ve preached it to others – I’ve even made the covers and worried over how people would react to them. Yet there is still a part of me that doesn’t listen.

I avoided Life After Life for over a year because of the cover. White and sparkly with fox on the front – it went straight into the ‘not my type of book’ pile. Even when a friend lent it to me I kept putting it aside saying ‘I’ll hate it’ or ‘it’s too big to carry around’.

Finally, I started reading (mostly from fear of borrowing a book for too long rather than actually wanting to). Now, if you asked, I would say that this is definitely my kind of book. Life After Life is a scenic walk through the English countryside – gentle, unassuming, and beautiful.

I was enthralled from the very first page; the concept of reliving your life again and again is terrifying – what would I change? The good? The bad? Change nothing? Change one thing? Change everything? Would different choices necessarily be better choices?

It also has the potential (in a book, at least) to be monotonous; it’s very difficult to go back over the same territory again and again and keep it interesting. Atkinson skilfully intertwines each life, building up gravity, speed and texture to keep you gripped. This isn’t a spiritual exploration of reincarnation, nor is it about ‘getting it right’ – it’s about the number of possible paths you could take (think The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost).

It’s also about family; Ursula’s life after life! (where life! = life factorial) allows us to become deeply acquainted with each of the characters. I was cursed and blessed with the big picture and, like Ursula, learnt all the various permutations of death, cruelty and loss. Bearing witness to the small things that are often overlooked the first time round.

I now understand why my friend was so determined to get me to read Life After Life – once I finished it, I can easily rave about it for hours and will recommend it to anyone who’ll listen to me. Beautifully written and skilfully created – this gets an easy five stars.

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