Life After Life

Hardcover | April 2, 2013

byKate Atkinson

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Here is Kate Atkinson at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.
      What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
     During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.
     During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.
     What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?
     Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, she finds warmth even in life's bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past.

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From the Publisher

Here is Kate Atkinson at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.       What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?     During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.     During a s...

KATE ATKINSON won the Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year Prize with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and has been a critically acclaimed international author ever since. Her most recent four bestsellers featured the former private detective Jackson Brodie: Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News...

other books by Kate Atkinson

A God In Ruins
A God In Ruins

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Behind The Scenes At The Museum: A Novel
Behind The Scenes At The Museum: A Novel

Paperback|Nov 12 1999

$16.63 online$18.50list price(save 10%)
Case Histories
Case Histories

Paperback|Oct 31 2005

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see all books by Kate Atkinson
Format:HardcoverDimensions:480 pages, 9.3 × 6.6 × 1.2 inPublished:April 2, 2013Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385671377

ISBN - 13:9780385671378

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Book I am a fan of Kate Atkinson and this book did not disappoint. Intriguing theme, sense of history, command language, humour .. all combined to be best of reads. Recommended.
Date published: 2015-09-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from unusual story I started this book 3 times before I actually made it all the way through. Parts of it were good--more so Ursula's story during the war, yet other parts felt disjointed and confusing. Not one of my favourites. The premise sounds interesting, but it didn't really grab me or keep me reading out of need.
Date published: 2015-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really liked this book I really liked the author's approach and the overall effect of the book, as well as each "life story". It got a bit slow around p.150, but picked up again after that and was great overall.
Date published: 2015-08-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hmmmm!! Not what I expected at all. An OK read but in the end a bit over my head. Left me a bit confused. But not an unpleasant read
Date published: 2015-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life After Life by Kate Atkinson The format of this book was very interesting, very different from other books I have read. The characters were crisp, entertaining and delightful. It is a book I will certainly read again. Atkinson is a genius!
Date published: 2015-05-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Life after life TT There's a lot to recommend in this Kate Atkinson novel. The main character's life story reads as a linear story with unexpected alternates and outcomes. Just what you can expect from this author and one of her best.
Date published: 2015-05-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing I was definitely intrigued by the premise of this story but, to be honest, I found reading it to be quite the chore. I didn't mind the interrupted timelines so much as the unlikeable characters and boring details.
Date published: 2015-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life After Life A compelling novel that reels you into the story only to deliver a jolting twist at the end of each segment. It made me want to sit down and re-read the whole thing after turning the last page.
Date published: 2015-04-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wow! I just could not put this book down, I had to know what was coming up. This is an amazing book and I would gladly recommend it. Actually, I've already "pestered" my friends about this great story.
Date published: 2015-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from one of the best What if you could change history? Or what if you could change your history? Starting at the beginning where you are fresh may seem like a good idea, it may also seem tedious. But then with each fresh start wonderful possibilities open up. And while this review may seem a little disjointed, when you dive into this book, all will become clear and I think you will be amazed.
Date published: 2015-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If only Such a great story. Such great characters. Such different paths -- a speculation on where you'd end up if you did one tiny thing differently....but mostly I loved this for its myriad ways of looking at the War and its myriad victims.
Date published: 2014-11-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Good read, but slow at the end.
Date published: 2014-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compelling Story I was impressed with this novel -- and will seek out other books by Kate Atkinson. The protagonist is sympathetic and memorable, the work's premise is intriguing, and the prose is very accessible. A wonderful read.
Date published: 2014-05-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting but hard to keep track A very interesting story concept and well written. The back and forth between time periods and trying to remember what sections of the plot had happened at which times was a bit confusing at times.
Date published: 2014-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compelling I loved this book. It kept up into the wee hours of the morning wanting to know how the next life would be altered from the last. Interspersed with lesson in history, philosophy and spirituality. Its a great read.
Date published: 2014-04-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Different in a good way... Slow start...but definitely captures your thoughts and heart.
Date published: 2014-03-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Life After Life Have you ever thought to yourself, "I wonder how my life would be different now if . . . "? Has an inexplicable intuition ever led you away from danger? Have you ever said, "If I had my life to live over, I would . . .". Those are common human thoughts and experiences. Most, if not all, of us have thought them or felt them. Kate Atkinson builds her story, Life After Life, upon the tug of those universal emotions. Her main character, Ursula Todd, lives and re-lives her life in a notable time. She navigates and re-navigates her way through family tensions, relationship struggles and war. Like the movie, Groundhog Day, the narrative arc needs to be handled deftly to avoid becoming a confusing, disjointed disaster. Atkinson unfolds the plot evenly and links us back to characters, so we don't feel lost. She drops in teasing hints of lives to come to keep readers engaged. She allows her characters to make mistakes and suffer setbacks. Just when that begins to feel a little discouraging, her characters savour small victories. I liked that Atkinson writes of the horrors of the Second World War, from both the German and the British points of view, with brutal clarity. I liked that Atkinson has her characters react to differing circumstances—an excellent way to build complex characters. I like the existential premise of the story. Generally, I liked her plotting, but the story would have been much more satisfying if it had built to a clear, positive outcome. I found the ending very unsatisfying. Unlike Groundhog Day (which is my favourite movie of all time, and one I believe to be seriously under-appreciated, by the way), I was not left with the feeling that the main character had evolved in a significant way, but rather that eventually she stumbled upon one slightly better outcome. I was not left with the feeling that the characters had developed more compassion, or humility, or ability to relate to other human beings. Worst of all, I was left with the feeling that it wasn't the end, and that this cycle would carry on indefinitely. What a feeling of futility! This book is entertaining, though-provoking and well-written. I'd recommend reading it, and when you get to the end, in your imagination wrap it up the way you would have it.
Date published: 2014-02-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hooks you every time It's a great story, you think you know what's going to happen and it completely changes. Really sow you that something's are meant to be. Long but an easy gripping read. Good if you know a bit of history to keep the time line straight.
Date published: 2014-01-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Many possible endings Well written and an interesting concept (we've all wondered how differently our lives would have been but for one decision or other, sometimes even insignificant-seeming at the time). Still, I was ready for it to be over long before it ended, something I thought I'd never say.
Date published: 2014-01-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Still trying to make complete sense of the ending......did Teddy go thru the same déjà vu thing......or did it imply we all do?
Date published: 2013-12-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A disappointing read.... I started reading this book with great enthusiasm and expectation because of the much hype and overrating that engulfed this book..But I was totally disappointed as the story moved..... This novel centres around a girl named Ursulla who is born in England and dies before she draws her first breath. But then she is born again and gets several chances of reliving her life after every demise... The concept of reincarnation & fate did impress me but as Ursulla journeyed her path into several lives, somehow I didn't derive much enthusiasm & grip and felt vey much detached from the characters.. The story goes back and forth to the past and present so rapidly that it was very difficult to find attachment, sympathy and compassion to the girl Ursulla and the characters surronding her life... But then I should admit that I enjoyed Kate Atkinson's style of writing and thats the only reason that kept me holding on to this book until the end. Overall, Life after Life was a very disappointing read for me.
Date published: 2013-06-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing Ending Although it was an interesting concept and beautifully written, I really felt let down in the end. It could have ended at any point in the book and basically made no difference. Honestly, I don't mind happy endings or sad ones, but I do like some kind of conclusion (and yes, I understand what the author was getting at regarding cyclical continuity but still...). I haven't read any of Kate Atkinson's other books but I am tempted to. She does manage to evoke some wonderful imagery and insight into the past with Life After Life, and I wish she had continued more of the witty elements that seemed to be concentrated at the beginning of the book. It started to feel more like hard work as it went on, with little relief. Overall, it was an unusual book and I guess many people will find it worth a read. I just feel it could have been so much better.
Date published: 2013-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant I think Kate Atkinson is a brilliant writer. Her Jackson Brodie detective books are a favourite series. With her latest release Life After Life, she takes things in a different direction..... Ursula Todd is born on a snowy night in February 1910. And dies the same night. And is born again. And dies again. Over and over. But each 'life' is a little different. Different choices, different choices and directions taken each time change the course of not just Ursula's life, but of those around her and those whose lives she touches. At first she is not aware of these incarnations, but as they repeat... "...and sometimes, too, she knew what someone was about to say before they said it or what mundane incident was about to occur - if a dish was about to be dropped or an apple thrown through a glasshouse, as if these things had happened many times before. Words and phrases echoed themselves, strangers seemed like old acquaintances." Atkinson starts us off slowly, with small changes and subtle alterations to the timeline. Each time though, Ursula lives a little longer and the path is altered. I loved the back and forth story telling. Each time I wondered what would change next. As I read, I often wondered what would I have changed? Can Ursula truly change the course of her life every time? And is every change for the better? Better for her or better for others? What about changing the course of history? Atkinson takes her tale through the war years many times - all again with many different outcomes. This part of the book was brilliant - the details and the settings crackle with authenticity and lent this tumultuous time a very personal and real view. The Blitz came to life for me with Atkinson's telling. Ursula is a wonderful character - human, flawed, funny, pragmatic and wonderfully drawn. The Todd household is made up of just as many fascinating personalities. I was particularly drawn to Ursula's brother Teddy and her father Hugh. Again, the amount of detail woven in and around these lives is captivating. But small, seemingly insignificant details are the things that don't seem to change from life to life - a little black cat brooch with a rhinestone for an eye, a dog's name, a picture on a wall - just their context in the story. Life After Life is brilliant on so many levels - the story, the characters and the exploration of family, fate and destiny. I initially raced through the first few chapters and then stepped back to slowly take my time finishing Life After Life. It was just too good to finish quickly and I enjoyed stopping after the snow falls (the end of Ursula's current life) to ponder what had happened and imagine where Atkinson might go next. And I was never able to guess right. There are turns I didn't see coming, changes I didn't like, passages that left me breathless and above all - stories to be savoured. Which one is the final ending? Who knows? Deliciously, Atkinson leaves that up to our own imagination. "No point in thinking, you just have to get on with life. We only have one after all, we should try and do our best. We can never get it right, but we must try." "What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?" .....what if?.....
Date published: 2013-05-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Maybe it's just me By all accounts I should like this book, right? Every review I've seen for this book was either raving about how great it was or how beautifully written it was. Maybe I was just expecting too much because of all the hype because I just couldn't like this book. i found that I just didn't care about the characters. The story jumped back and forth so quickly and randomly that it didn't give me a chance to like them. When I first heard about the book's premise I was excited to see where Kate Atkinson would take it. Unfortunately, the journey this story took was uninspiring and without any clear direction. I gave up at around page 120 because I just wasn't interested. I may be the only one with a negative review but it's how i felt.
Date published: 2013-04-13

Extra Content

Read from the Book

November 1930A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the café. She had come in from the rain and drops of water still trembled like delicate dew on the fur coats of some of the women inside. A regiment of white-aproned waiters rushed around at tempo, serving the needs of the Münchner at leisure – coffee, cake and gossip.He was at a table at the far end of the room, surrounded by the usual cohorts and toadies. There was a woman she had never seen before – a permed, platinum blonde with heavy make-up – an actress by the look of her. The blonde lit a cigarette, making a phallic performance out of it. Everyone knew that he preferred his women demure and wholesome, Bavarian preferably. All those dirndls and knee-socks, God help us.The table was laden. Bienenstich, Gugelhupf, Käsekuchen. He was eating a slice of Kirschtorte. He loved his cakes. No wonder he looked so pasty, she was surprised he wasn’t diabetic. The softly repellent body (she imagined pastry) beneath the clothes, never exposed to public view. Not a manly man. He smiled when he caught sight of her and half rose, saying, ‘Guten Tag, gnädiges Fräulein,’ indicating the chair next to him. The bootlicker who was currently occupying it jumped up and moved away.‘Unsere Englische Freundin,’ he said to the blonde, who blew cigarette smoke out slowly and examined her without any interest before eventually saying, ‘Guten Tag.’ A Berliner.She placed her handbag, heavy with its cargo, on the floor next to her chair and ordered Schokolade. He insisted that she try the Pflaumen Streusel.‘Es regnet,’ she said by way of conversation. ‘It’s raining.’‘Yes, it’s raining,’ he said with a heavy accent. He laughed, pleased at his attempt. Everyone else at the table laughed as well. ‘Bravo,’ someone said. ‘Sehr gutes Englisch.’ He was in a good mood, tapping the back of his index finger against his lips with an amused smile as if he was listening to a tune in his head.The Streusel was delicious.‘Entschuldigung,’ she murmured, reaching down into her bag and delving for a handkerchief. Lace corners, monogrammed with her initials, ‘UBT’ – a birthday present from Pammy. She dabbed politely at the Streusel flakes on her lips and then bent down again to put the handkerchief back in her bag and retrieve the weighty object nesting there. Her father’s old service revolver from the Great War, a Webley Mark V.A move rehearsed a hundred times. One shot. Swiftness was all, yet there was a moment, a bubble suspended in time after she had drawn the gun and levelled it at his heart when everything seemed to stop.‘Führer,’ she said, breaking the spell. ‘Für Sie.’Around the table guns were jerked from holsters and pointed at her.One breath. One shot.Ursula pulled the trigger.Darkness fell.

Editorial Reviews

National BestsellerA New York Times BestsellerWinner of the 2013 Costa Book AwardShortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction"There aren't enough breathless adjectives to describe Life After Life: Dazzling, witty, moving, joyful, mournful, profound. Wildly inventive, deeply felt. Hilarious. Humane. Simply put: it's one of the best novels I've read this century." —Gillian Flynn, bestselling author of Gone Girl and Sharp Objects "Think of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife or David Nicholls' One Day. . . . [or] Martin Amis' Times Arrow. . . . Life After Life should have the popular success of the former and deserves to win prizes, too. Atkinson has done something highly unusual, boldly beginning afresh. . . . [Atkinson] sets herself an audacious premise and the most ambitious sweep of our modern history, and absolutely nails it on every count. It both pleases the crowd and feeds the soul, in the spirit of the grand masters." —The Times (UK)  "In a lesser writer's hands, a novel that revisits its main character's birth 12 times would likely be tiresome, but each revision is fresh, often funny, and filled with new life in more ways than one. Atkinson tackles a mystical theme in Life After Life, but she is at heart a realist." —Maclean’s"Merging family saga with a fluid sense of time and an extraordinarily vivid sense of history at its most human level. A dizzying and dazzling tour de force." —Daily Mail (UK)"Brilliant . . . more than just a terrific story about the impact of one existence on another. Atkinson can knock the socks off any rival in terms of skill and style. . . . The tour de force of the book, though, is Atkinson's recreation of the Blitz . . . unputdownable." —Evening Standard (UK)"Startlingly brilliant . . . endlessly rich." —Reader's Digest"Life After Life is to be applauded for its inventiveness, and for reminding us of lives vanished without trace or memory in the waste and monstrosity of war." —Literary Review"Kate Atkinson's new novel is a box of delights. Ingenious in construction, indefatigably entertaining, it grips the reader's imagination on the first page and never lets go. If you wish to be moved and astonished, read it. And if you want to give a dazzling present, buy it for your friends." —Hilary Mantel, award-winning author of Wolf Hall"At heart this is a war story . . . and in its focus on the women and civilians usually overlooked or downplayed, it gives the Blitz its full measure of terror. . . . [Atkinson's] found an inventive way to make both the war's toll and the pull of alternate history, of darkness avoided or diminished, fresh." —Publishers Weekly"Provocative, entertaining and beautifully written." —Kirkus Reviews"Atkinson’s world is cruelly arbitrary yet also exultantly resurgent. . . . Atkinson packs a huge emotional punch with fluency of language and poetical leitmotifs from Donne to Keats. As with Martin Amis' Time’s Arrow and Ian McEwan's Atonement, she explores the kaleidoscopic paradoxes of 'what if'." —The Telegraph (UK) "Much of the (very considerable) pleasure of this almost deliriously inventive, sharply imagined and ultimately affecting novel lies in the almost spookily vivid atmosphere and pathos that Atkinson manages to extract from all this Groundhog Day repetition. . . . Atkinson's knack for retelling—what to repeat, what to change, what to leave out—is satisfyingly faultless. Most of all, though, there's an odd exhilaration in the sheer number and the build-up. . . . Atkinson has written something that amounts to so much more than the sum of its (very many) parts." —The Guardian (UK) "Life After Life is ultimately centered on the brutal British experience of World War II, with characters caught in the blitz and Ursula joining a rescue unit for injured civilians. As powerful as the rest of Life After Life is, its lengthy evocation of this nightmare is gutsy and deeply disturbing, just as the author intends it to be." —The New York Times"It takes a brilliant author to keep things interesting while telling the same story over and over. . . . [Atkinson] goes deep into the minds of her characters, while creating readable, intelligent and quirky books. . . . [Atkinson's novels] are thought-provoking and filled with complex characters, classical references and subtle hints. Her latest, Life After Life, is all of that. . . . Atkinson's rendering of the war is vivid, heartbreaking and staggering. . . . [A] brilliant novel, written in a lighthearted style, but with great depth." —The Vancouver Sun "There's a bit of Edward Gorey-esque glee in the way Kate Atkinson keeps knocking off her main character in Life After Life. And yet, she manages to invest these repeated deaths with poetry and emotion. . . . [An] ingenious narrative conceit. . . . with Life After Life, Atkinson has crafted a narrative that pushes us to think about our own choices. . . . Along the way, there is a delight in the essence of this unusual fiction." —Los Angeles Times "Atkinson is a master, weaving together the many strands of the story, making each narrative as compelling as the last. The tale is enriched with literary references and philosophies introduced by the characters in easily digestible forms." —Chatelaine  "It is in [the Todds'] poignant constancy that Atkinson excels at deploying her sharp wit, her keen grasp of character and her mastery of narrative irony. . . . If you could go back immediately and read a dazzling, intricate and entertaining novel a second time to catch some of the storytelling magic you missed the first, would you? If the book is Atkinson's Life After Life, then why not?" —San Francisco Chronicle