Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Genre: Historical fiction, magical realism
On a snowy winter day in 1910, Ursula is born and dies before she can take her first breath. What follows is a tale of life after life, as Ursula gets chances to live again and again and again, taking radically different paths with each choice as history marches before her and carries her story in its wake.
Well written and engaging, I thoroughly enjoyed Atkinson’s look into the way our choices can change the course of our lives. Atkinson weaves mysteries throughout the book, some of which are answered by later story lines, some that are only hinted at, some that are never answered at all. We watch as Ursula navigates and renavigates decisive moments in her life, waiting as she dodges a mistake she made in a previous life. The characters in Ursula’s life are fleshed out through glimpses of their stories, and I found myself caring about the directions their lives took. I also enjoyed Atkinson’s visceral look into the poignant history of early 20th century Britain–exploring the intense toll both World Wars had on a population.
I found Ursula difficult to relate to, however, and her overall personality to be a bit grating and difficult to understand. I cared a lot more for her mother and her sister than I did for her. I felt that she was a character to be projected upon rather than possessing a distinct personality of her own.
I also felt like there was no real ending to the book. Ursula lives so many lives which go in a number of fascinating directions, but the story just seemed to stop, suddenly and with no real conclusion. Was Ursula’s final life supposed to be her best life? Had she finally reached her full potential as a human being and so she stopped being reborn?
Despite those questions, I highly enjoyed Atkinson’s book, the way she wove history through the story, and left her audience rooting for Ursula and the choices she makes in life.