Reviews for Life After Life

Booklist Reviews 2013 February #2
*Starred Review* In a radical departure from her Jackson Brodie mystery series, Atkinson delivers a wildly inventive novel about Ursula Todd, born in 1910 and doomed to die and be reborn over and over again. She drowns, falls off a roof, and is beaten to death by an abusive husband but is always reborn back into the same loving family, sometimes with the knowledge that allows her to escape past poor decisions, sometimes not. As Atkinson subtly delineates all the pathways a life or a country might take, she also delivers a harrowing set piece on the Blitz as Ursula, working as a warden on a rescue team, encounters horrifying tableaux encompassing mangled bodies and whole families covered in ash, preserved just like the victims of Pompeii. Alternately mournful and celebratory, deeply empathic and scathingly funny, Atkinson shows what it is like to face the horrors of war and yet still find the determination to go on, with her wholly British characters often reducing the Third Reich to "a fuss." From her deeply human characters to her comical dialogue to her meticulous plotting, Atkinson is working at the very top of her game. An audacious, thought-provoking novel from one of our most talented writers. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Atkinson's publisher is pulling out all the stops in marketing her latest, which will no doubt draw in many new readers in addition to her Jackson Brodie fans. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2013 April
Multiplying life's twists and turns

Kate Atkinson’s remarkable, and vastly enjoyable, new novel requires a reader on ball bearings—someone capable of turning with every plot variation and yet able to stay balanced through the incredible twists that must occur when a fictional character takes a dozen or so chances to get life right.

We have all read books about going back in time, but in Life After Life, time finally catches up with Ursula, the English schoolgirl who relives her life over and over, both in England and in Nazi Germany, mostly during the Second World War. Each variation may constitute her best shot yet (or not), no matter how many times she has to repeat it. And every time you think, by golly, she’s got it—the author knows better.

Plot summation here is difficult, because it changes at the drop of a bomb. (And incidentally, the descriptions of the London Blitz are the best—the most realistic—that this reader has ever read, bringing home the horrifying details of death out of the sky as nothing else in fiction has before.) One might think that Atkinson’s technique of ending Ursula’s story and then starting it over would be too confusing or tedious to stay with very long, but no such thing happens. The cast of characters varies slightly from existence to existence, and the alternate histories with a multitude of endings cast their own spell. Still, it helps that most characters stay dependably the same; there are slight variations in individual personalities, but the main individuals stay fairly faithful to their past and future personas. It’s the events that vary.

Edinburgh author Atkinson has won Britain’s Whitbread Book of the Year Award, and has published a collection of short stories and seven previous novels, four of them starring Jackson Brodie, a former police inspector turned private[Thu Aug 21 02:21:30 2014] Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\ line 249. investigator. She deals with harder questions here (“what if there was no demonstrable reality?”) and arrives at few general answers—but the process and the plotline are gripping.

You might think that humor wouldn’t fit in such a scenario, but Atkinson’s very dry, very British wit adds to the story without interfering with its serious trajectory. Darkness so often descends—but life goes on. Which may or may not be comforting, but surely forms the premise of an absorbing novel you will want to finish before the next darkness descends.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2014 January
New paperback releases for reading groups

Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being is a stirring novel about the power of stories and the sense of connection they provide. Ruth, a writer living on an island in British Columbia, comes across an old lunchbox on the beach one day. The lunchbox, which has clearly logged many miles, contains letters and a journal belonging to a Tokyo teenager named Nao. Fascinated by the journal, Ruth learns that Nao, driven to despair by loneliness, plans to kill herself. Ozeki skillfully develops tandem narratives, shifting from British Columbia to Tokyo and presenting a vivid portrait of Nao’s unhappy life. Her father, a failed businessman, attempts suicide, while Nao herself is physically abused by bullying classmates. The story she recounts in her journal—of her daily existence and the history of her family in Japan—causes ripples in Ruth’s own life, changing her in unexpected ways. Written with compassion and insight, this masterful narrative displays Ozeki’s many gifts. Her command of history and understanding of the human heart are among the book’s numerous pleasures.

A masterful mix of fact and fantasy, Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni is set in Manhattan at the end of the 19th century. Chava is a female clay figure—or golem—from Poland who was given life by a rabbi involved in kabbalistic rituals. When Chava finds herself stranded in New York City after a long sea voyage, she is overwhelmed and confused. She eventually meets a kindred spirit—Ahmad, a jinni created from fire in Syria, who was imprisoned in a flask and freed in New York City. Ahmad is trapped in human form and unable to access his magic gifts, which include the power to turn himself into fire. Although their dispositions are poles apart and they come from different countries, Chava and Ahmad become allies as they adapt to life in America. But their greatest challenge is the strange demonic power that threatens both their destinies. In this innovative take on the traditional immigrant story, Wecker brings old New York to vivid life. She wields her own special kind of magic in this remarkable debut.

The captivating Life After Life is a bit of a departure for Kate Atkinson, who is best known as a mystery writer. The novel’s heroine, Ursula Todd, is born into a privileged British family in 1910. Her fate is a curious one: When she dies, she is born all over again. A number of accidents occur at various points in her life (drowning, a fall from a roof), all of which lead to her demise and the incredible opportunity to start life anew. Each version of Ursula’s life gives her character new dimension and fleshes out the story of her family, including her fastidious mother, Sylvie, and her adoring father, Hugh. Atkinson skillfully weaves historical events into the narrative. The London Blitz, during which Ursula serves on a rescue squad, is recounted in all its horror, and an encounter with Hitler gives Ursula the chance to influence the course of history. Atkinson writes with perfect poise, creating an entirely convincing narrative. With this cleverly speculative work of fiction, she proves there’s nothing she can’t do as a novelist.

Cop[Thu Aug 21 02:21:30 2014] Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\ line 249. yright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 February #1
If you could travel back in time and kill Hitler, would you? Of course you would. Atkinson's (Started Early, Took My Dog, 2011, etc.) latest opens with that conceit, a hoary what-if of college dorm discussions and, for that matter, of other published yarns (including one, mutatis mutandis, by no less an eminence than George Steiner). But Atkinson isn't being lazy, not in the least: Her protagonist's encounter with der Führer is just one of several possible futures. Call it a more learned version of Groundhog Day, but that character can die at birth, or she can flourish and blossom; she can be wealthy, or she can be a fugitive; she can be the victim of rape, or she can choose her sexual destiny. All these possibilities arise, and all take the story in different directions, as if to say: We scarcely know ourselves, so what do we know of the lives of those who came before us, including our own parents and--in this instance--our unconventional grandmother? And all these possibilities sometimes entwine, near to the point of confusion. In one moment, for example, the conversation turns to a child who has died; reminds Ursula, our heroine, "Your daughter....She fell in the fire," an event the child's poor mother gainsays: " ‘I only ever had Derek,' she concluded firmly." Ah, but there's the rub with alternate realities, all of which, Atkinson suggests, can be folded up into the same life so that all are equally real. Besides, it affords several opportunities to do old Adolf in, what with his "funny little flap of the hand backward so that he looked as if he were cupping his ear to hear them better" and all. Provocative, entertaining and beautifully written. It's not quite the tour de force that her Case Histories (2004) was, but this latest affords the happy sight of seeing Atkinson stretch out into speculative territory again. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 November #2

Atkinson's debut, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award; best sellers like Started Early, Took My Dog give a whole new meaning to the idea of smart suspense. Here, on a cold, snow-blown night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife and promptly dies. But wait, Ursula Todd is born in 1910 and lives, growing, living, dying, and living over and over again as the events move toward World War II. Perhaps those multiple lives could allow her to redirect a fraught and dangerous century.

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 March #2

Life after life after life: Atkinson's telling title suggests not some glorious afterworld but the structure of this remarkable novel, about an English girl born in February, 1910. In fact, Ursula is stillborn in an opening chapter but emerges a lusty babe in the next; Whitbread Award winner Atkinson (Behind the Scenes at the Museum) then hopscotches through time, circling back to offer alternate versions of Ursula's life. Did Ursula endure an unwanted pregnancy, see her brother die of influenza, enter into a sour marriage--or not? Did she survive World War II Britain or instead marry a German and face down Hitler, a gun in her hand? One brief passage shows Ursula musing with a doctor about her fugue states, but Atkinson doesn't waste time belaboring the idea, instead delivering a clear understanding that one life can take different avenues--and what a difference that can make. Atkinson works both large and small, capturing the sweep of history while perfectly rendering the dynamics of Ursula's loving, contentious family: gentle father Hugh, disappointed mother Sylvie, generous sister Pamela, and more. VERDICT Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 10/28/12 and Editors' Picks, LJ 2/15/13, "Editors' Spring Picks."]--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

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Library Journal Reviews Newsletter
Ursula Todd was born in 1910 and is fated to die and be reborn over and over until she "gets it right." Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to prevent two world wars? Love it or hate it, this darkly comic novel by the winner of the Whitbread Award will stick with you. (LJ 3/15/13) (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 January #3

Atkinson's new novel (after Started Early, Took My Dog) opens twice: first in Germany in 1930 with an English woman taking a shot at Hitler, then in England in 1910 when a baby arrives, stillborn. And then it opens again: still in 1910, still in England, but this time the baby lives. That baby is Ursula Todd, and as she grows up, she dies and lives repeatedly. Watching Atkinson bring Ursula into the world yet again initially feels like a not terribly interesting trick: we know authors have the power of life and death. But as Ursula and the century age, and war and epidemic and war come again, the fact of death, of "darkness," as Atkinson calls it, falling on cities and people--now Ursula, now someone else, now Ursula again--turns out to be central. At heart this is a war story; half the book is given over to Ursula's activities during WWII, and in its focus on the women and civilians usually overlooked or downplayed, it gives the Blitz its full measure of terror. By the end, which takes us back to that moment in 1930 and beyond, it's clear that Atkinson's not playing tricks; rather, through Ursula's many lives and the accretion of what T.S. Eliot called "visions and revisions," she's found an inventive way to make both the war's toll and the pull of alternate history, of darkness avoided or diminished, fresh. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, Inkwell Management. (Apr. 2)

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