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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 May 2017
A little confusing at first, but one soon gets the idea: this is telling the several lives of Ursula Todd – each life being cut short by her death, and starting all over again until she meets a different kind of death. That’s quite an ingenious idea, though I have to say that in the end, apart from the ingenuity, I could not see the point of it. Ursula does not learn anything from her previous lives and does not try to avoid situations such as those that led to her deaths. She does frequently have a sense of déja vu, when she remembers with terror some of the moments before her previous deaths; and in one of her lives she is sent to a psychiatrist in the hope that he could cure her of her anxieties. The psychiatrist is interested in Buddhism and mutters something about reincarnation; and once in a while some of the characters muse about how differently things would have turned out if some event had or had not happened. These occasional reflections are meant to be keys to the idea behind the book. Even so, the novel just seems to be made up of some dozen novellas.

The effect of this device is that the reader will wonder all the time how each life is going to end. For me the result was that, for all the quality of the writing, whether humorous or terrifying, I was initially somewhat impatient reading about what happened before each death. Not always, though, especially not in the later, longer chapters (there is a great variety in length) when the scenes in Ursula’s life, unrelated to the deaths at the end, are so well done that I would forget thinking about the inevitable end.

Kate Atkinson skilfully evokes the changing atmosphere of England between 1910, when Ursula was born and 1967 when she met the last of her deaths. (I make it twelve or possibly thirteen deaths altogether.) Atkinson is particularly good at evoking what England was like during the two World Wars and their after-effects. A major part of the novel is set in London during the air raids of the 1940s, with lengthy descriptions of grimly graphic scenes. They are so vividly described that one imagines Kate Atkinson must have experienced such raids; but she was born six years after the end of the Second World War; and she tells us in an Epilogue how she learnt what it was like.

There are equally vivid descriptions of air raids on Berlin, for Ursula also spent part of one of her lives in Nazi Germany. She had visited it in 1933 during what was to be a year abroad (though elsewhere, near the end of the book, her visit was in 1930, before Hitler came to power; and in that version of her life she would really have changed the course of world history). The daughter of the Bavarian family where she lodged in 1933 had been at Kindergarten with Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress; and Ursula was frequently up in Berchtesgaden and observed Hitler’s way of life there. In that life Ursula married a German, took German citizenship and had a little daughter. In that life, she is in Germany all through the war.

The sequence of the deaths is, disconcertingly to me, not chronological. The first death recorded is in 1930, when Ursula is 20 years old; this is followed by the earliest four deaths, which are between 1910 and 1918, when she was still a child. In those chapters we get little idea of what Ursula (unlike her hyperactive elder brother Maurice who will grow up to be a rather dislikeable character) was like. The fifth death suddenly takes us to 1947; then it’s 1923, and so on. In some lives, terrible and/or sad things happen to Ursula: in one life, she has a quite horrendous marriage to a violently abusive man. Dreadful things happen also to other characters in the book. A few of them die in one of Ursula’s lives, but are still alive in another, later, life of hers.

One of the features of the novel are the many quotations from literature.

The book is very long. As in her earlier novel, “Behind the Scenes in the Museum” (see my Amazon review), there is far too large a cast of characters whom one tries to remember, although many of them turn out to be quite marginal; and even some of those who play a bigger role are not really developed as characters. But Ursula’s father, Hugh, is a lovely man; while her bourgeois mother, Sylvie, becomes steadily less likeable as the story proceeds. Another vivid character is that of Ursula’s modern and irresponsible aunt Izzie.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 June 2017
"Life after life" is the kind of book you hope to encounter whenever you pickup a novel for the first time. I had read the follow up "A god in ruins" not knowing what to expect and was engrossed in that novel to the extent that there was a sharp intake of breath when I ultimately got to the end. . Whilst this book covers the fate of the same family and even covers much of the same time line, both can be read on their own. However, having read either of the two, there is a fair chance of wanting to read the other. Intriguingly, there are little elements within this first volume which I cannot recall getting answered in the second and I would be very keen to read a third novel about the Todd family.

Simply put, this novel takes the notion of having different possibilities open to you throughout life and puts the main protagonist in amongst a wealth of alternatives, the principle storyline looking at the Second World war through both an English and German perspective. The idea may seem too eccentric to work but Kate Atkinson pulls the ideas off with aplomb.

For me, there are two elements of great story telling. There first is to create such strong characters that we know who they are when speaking because their voices come out so strongly in the dialogue. All the characters in this book are terrific , whether it is the flaky Irish housemaid Bridget or my particular favourite, the incorrigible aunt and authoress, Izzy who surely deserves a book of her own. The other component is having the sensation of being plunged in to a world where the people and places seem real and who you feel sad to leave behind when you finish the book.

Kate Atkinson has tapped in to something truly wonderful in this book and whilst both this and "A God in ruins" ultimately reveal a more shocking face of 20th century life than initially supposed in the two differing accounts of the Second World War from the perspective of both the bomber and the bombed, there seem enough potential in the little world she has created to make another visit to Fox Corner highly desirable. This is a fantastic novel.
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on 2 April 2017
The strapline for the book asks the question: "What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?", leading me to believe that the answer would lie somewhere in its pages. If it does, perhaps I missed it, because I finished the book feeling like it was unanswered and, not just unanswered, but also that I'd been taken on a wild goose chase to find that answer. About a week of post-book mulling later, the feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment remain.

Which is a shame, as there are some lovely moments of writing and life here. I found it an easy-to-read writing style that's harrowing, amusing and movingly poignant in places; the rest of the time felt a lot like waiting for the really good bit to happen, and it never did.
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on 26 February 2018
This is a fantastic novel about "what ifs?". The main character is Ursula and we watch her life change each time she relives it.
Did things not work out as well as you'd hoped? Have another go at it and try a different option, see how that works out!
Part of the joy of reading this book is wondering what small changes will make the biggest difference. The blurb suggests that Ursula will attempt to change history and make a big difference. However, the novel is almost exclusively about her life and the small changes that affect it, which makes for a really interesting story!
Another thing that makes the book so compelling is that Ursula doesn't seem to know that these re-dos are happening apart from a strange sense of deja vu.
This is such a interesting concept because most "alternate history" books deal with the major events.
A wonderfully interesting novel. I'm looking forward to reading more from this author.
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on 29 April 2017
I thought this was a brilliant book. The idea is not entirely original, but the way the different 'lives' were interwoven entranced me. And of course it is beautifully written, as usual with Kate Atkinson, with a wonderful blend of humour and pathos. she has a gift for capturing a character, an event, a trivial detail or a whole era in just a few well-chosen words. The book has stayed in ly mlind several weeks after finishing it. A great read!
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on 8 January 2018
I gave up on this although friends have loved it. Personally I found the continual re reading of someone’s life in slightly different versions extremely tedious and in the end I didn’t care what happened next so gave up!
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on 5 January 2018
Certainly an intriguing idea. It tells the story of one woman's life, or rather lives. Not reincarnation as we may imagine, but the same life lived over and over until she gets it right. I lost count of how many lives the protagonist, Ursula had, around 12/13, I think. Sometimes the reader is taken back to her birth and other times back to a particular, seemingly important time in her adulthood. Seemingly small differences in circumstances can change the outcome of an event . Ursula herself isn't entirely aware of her past lives, but she does get 'feelings' of impending doom or deja vous and in a new life does try to interfere with the outcome, even if she's not entirely sure why she's doing so. It's very well written with what must have involved meticulous note keeping and despite scenes being repeated, the author manages to make it seem fresh and it's an interesting way to learn new things about Ursula's life and those of her loved ones. Set mostly in and around London, and during the 2nd world war. Some of the chapters were too long, dragging on a bit, making it difficult to find a stopping point, but overall an enjoyable read.
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VINE VOICEon 8 August 2016
I've been given A God In Ruins to read for my book club choice this month. Life After Life was written by Kate Atkinson first - the two novels are considered to be companion pieces rather than prequel/sequel, however some of the characters appear in both books so I decided that I would read this one first. I have also read several of her books in the past and enjoyed them all.
Before I started I knew that it was about a life that is repeated over and over again - this is made very clear from the beginning where a baby dies during its birth but survives in the following chapter where the birth is repeated with a change of circumstance. She then dies again very soon afterwards in a childhood accident and starts again. Having been through the loop a few times, the pattern is set for the novel.
In the author's usual style, this is an easy book to read with an engaging story and credible characters.
Quickly, Ursula's frequent repeats are completely natural and it follows that the inevitable deaths are nothing to be concerned about as they lead immediately to another birth. Her death's usually follow something horrible happening which she manages to avoid the next time although her lack of conscious awareness seems very plausible and I warmed to this.
The structure is fantastically original and executed very well. The rest of the regular plot is much more ordinary and a lot of really interesting ideas are not explored fully (maybe this is the reason for the second book so we can find more about what people actually did).
Most of the book is written very smoothly which is a surprise as the plot jumps about every time Ursula dies. I felt that the links to Germany were clunky which was faintly disappointing and thought that hints could have been dropped much earlier.
Ursula's life is replayed over and over with the world spinning around her, seemingly unaware that changing small details can have such a major effect.
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on 4 March 2016
Groundhog Day meets Sliding Doors. Or perhaps a more accurate comparison would be with The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North.

In this version of alternate realities, the main character (Ursula) has no memory of previous lives or realities, just a sense of deja vu which, with practice, provides the means and impetus to avoid tragedy. Possibly. Because chains of events are not entirely predictable. Not even Ursula can unravel the complexities and know the consequences of any particular action.

It is intriguing to contemplate how destinies seem to hinge on very minor events, incidents that at the time might seem inconsequential. And even more fascinating to conjecture how, with more knowledge of consequences, we might change the world. Which is what, eventually, Ursula sets out to do.

Atkinson doesn't attempt to explain why or how Ursula has this gift which, apparently, no-one else shares. That's not a problem for me, but I might perhaps have wanted her to look at the meaning of life in a world where we had knowledge of the future.

Some of the middle bits dragged a bit and I found the ending slightly unsatisfactory, but that is not something I can describe without spoilers. Nevertheless, it is a good read and I would recommend it.

If the book has a moral it is perhaps this: even if you do not possess a sense of deja vu, consider the potential consequences of your actions, speech and thoughts. You might just make your life a more rewarding experience.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 8 January 2017
I only picked this up after reading amazing reviews of A God in Ruins in 2016 and resolving to read it, but realising this is the companion book. I hate reading things out of order, and although I know that A God In Ruins can standalone, I knew it would bug my slightly OCD character if I didn't read this first. Well, I'm so glad I did. It is a wonderful, wonderful book. I found it utterly absorbing even though I didn't really understand what was going on for the first fifty pages or so. I was hooked. I loved everything about it. I thought it was beautifully written, and it made me cry so much I could hardly bear it at times. It's a long read, but I finished it in two days and didn't want to put it down. If A God In Ruins is even half as good I know i'm in for a treat. I'm already marking this as one of my top ten reads of the year and it's only the beginning of January. It's going to take a lot to beat it.
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