Have you ever wondered what your life would have been like if you had done A instead of B? Or if you had turned left instead of right? I frequently find myself thinking about these things and wondering if my life is truly under my control like I pretend it is. I alternate between feeling comforted by the thought that life works out the way it’s supposed to and frustrated by this same notion.
Because of this, I have always wanted to write a story that showcases the same character and her life, but features how her life is different in each scenario based on an incident or a decision she made. I never could quite work out that mechanism though. Luckily, someone far more clever than I am did and we have the novel, Life After Life written by Kate Atkinson!
Time in a work of fiction is a concept that is subject to some serious debate. How do you best portray time and its passage and, even more, where you are in history and in your story? Through letters? Are dates at the beginning of chapters sufficient? Keeping your reader grounded is incredibly challenging and encapsulating time, for me, is one of the hardest things about writing fiction.
For Atkinson, doing all of this seems effortless, even with a character whose story ends and restarts almost reminiscent of a Choose Your Own Adventure story, but on a much more sophisticated level.
Ursula, the main character, is somewhat aware that her life ends and restarts, but she can’t explain it and I don’t know if she ever comes to a full realization of what is happening to her by the end of the book. When she gets to a critical juncture in the story where her life will end up going one way or the other depending upon her choice or action, she starts to feel very ill, uncomfortable and afraid. As you follow her life, it turns out that it’s not always the big plot points that end up being those critical moments and I truly love that the author decided to do this. Sometimes, a tiny decision takes her on a completely different path to a different life. For us in the real world, even the smallest change could have put us in a different world.
Atkinson tells Ursula’s story in a masterful way that kept me turning the pages (actually swiping left on my iPad. But you get the idea.). I loved – and I think you will enjoy it too – how each character from every plot line comes back into her life in various ways, depending on what decision she made previously. It makes me think of that diagram you can pull up on Facebook that shows how all of your contacts are connected to one another. I love seeing who knows who and how they all fit together.
Life After Life is a fabulous read that takes place in World War II, though the war itself is secondary to the story of Ursula. This is not a story about World War II, if that makes sense. Instead, you get to see Ursula and where she winds up both in and out of the war, depending on what life she is currently living, which, in of itself, would make for great discussion at a book club. The story encompasses her whole life, and her many lives too, and extends beyond World War II.
If you’re looking for something different to read, I hope you’ll check out Life After Life. This isn’t a paid blog post or anything like that. I just enjoyed the book enough that I wanted to share my experience with all of you! If you’ve read this book, I’d love to know your thoughts about it are! Please share in the comments!
3 thoughts on “Book Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson”
I thought the premise fabulous; however, the application became a bit tedious after a couple of cycles, and my attention started to wane. Like that great anecdote heard once too many times, the flavor became a bit stale.
I can definitely appreciate your perspective. I felt that way about Chuck Palahniuk’s Damned.
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