From the descriptions of this book, I wasn’t sure I would like it even though I usually enjoy Kate Atkinson, a very playful writer. But what a great book–completely engrossing, oddly funny, and immensely satisfying.
Ursula Todd is born on a snowy night in 1910, but the umbilical cord is wrapped around her throat, so she dies. On the same night, Ursula is born again, but this time she lives. As she gets older, she faces various hazards, some of which she does not survive. Each time she is born again, on the same snowy night.
Through vignettes during the course of Ursula’s life, Atkinson skillfully and compellingly weaves the story of how small decisions in life can affect larger issues. We know a very large issue is coming up from the beginning, because in the first scene of the novel, Ursula assassinates Adolf Hitler and is killed in turn by his men.
Life After Life is a stunningly inventive novel about choice, fate, free will, and the nature of time, which Ursula explains to her psychiatrist (who believes in reincarnation) is not a circle but a palimpsest–a manuscript that has been overwritten but on which you can still see some of the writing.
I found this novel amazing, having never read anything quite like it. It is fascinating, funny, touching, and thought-provoking. I personally am going to miss Jackson Brodie, but Atkinson has launched herself far beyond him.