I kept hearing what a great book Life After Life was, but at first I found it confusing because of the sudden shifts in time and place. It took me three tries to settle into this book, and I’m so glad I stuck with it. Life After Life is an unusual, gripping, thought-provoking book.
The book begins in 1930 in Germany. A young Englishwoman sits at a café table with Adolf Hitler, before his rise to infamy. She eats a dessert, pulls out a gun, and shoots at Hitler as his companions take aim at her. Then “darkness fell,” a recurring refrain in the book.
It turns out that Ursula Todd has the strange ability to re-live her life over and over again. After she presumably dies in Germany while attempting to assassinate Hitler, she is born in 1910 in the English countryside. She dies immediately. She is also saved from death. She dies and is revived again and again in the book, and relives her life in slightly changing form each time. She is only dimly aware of this, and is in fact sent to a psychiatrist because of her strange thoughts about the past and future. “Her memories seemed like a cascade of echoes,” she thinks at one point (p. 153).
The driving question in the book is, how does an average English young woman get to the point of trying to assassinate Hitler? Author Kate Atkinson has created a set of vivid, engaging characters who surround Ursula as she lives through World War I and World War II. Another interesting aspect is the puzzle of her many lives. Atkinson has somehow managed to make Ursula’s changing storyline understandable.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of the ending (plenty of fodder for a book club discussion). Atkinson has written a sequel, A God in Ruins, which follows the story of Ursula’s beloved brother Teddy.
For more information about Kate Atkinson, check out her web site, from which I copied the above author photo.