Every once in awhile, I’ll read something that is miles outside of my usual material. Usually, I’m pretty happy I did, and “Life after life,” by Kate Atkinson is one of those books. I read a review when it came out last spring and when I saw it on the library rental shelf, I went ahead and checked it out.
This is the first book I have read in which I was really waiting for the main character to die. And Ursula Todd does die… a lot. That is the point of the story. Ursula is a girl born to a middle-class British family on a cold, snowy night in 1910. Over the course of the novel, she dies and then is reborn as the same person to the same parents on the same day. However, in each new life there a slight change in events which steer Ursula’s life onto a different course. (Think of the movie “Groundhog Day” but on a larger time-scale and fewer laughs.)
In the very first chapter, Ursula attempts to kill Adolph Hitler in 1930, before he reaches power. (No spoiler alert here. The reader will know this in the first ten pages.) Atkinson leaves it until the end of the book to resolve the issue of how that transpired and the result.
Atkinson is creative in the way she offs her protagonist. Ursula initially dies as she is being born. She falls out a window. She is murdered. Eventually she starts to develop déjà vu feelings about her previous lives and starts taking steps to change her fate and prevent her pending death. She doesn’t always get it right. Although she succeeds in changing the course of events, she ends up in the same place anyway and still dies. She usually takes several tries to get it right.
Ursula is an interesting character, so as a reader, I didn’t mind living her successive lives with her. After some of the longer sequences, I felt myself wishing, “So hurry up and die already, so we can get on to the next story.”
I won’t spoil the ending, but I have to say I was not happy with it. Maybe I just didn’t understand it, but I was left with the feeling that Atkinson did not resolve all her remaining issues.
Otherwise, it was an interesting, although different book that I would recommend.