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on 11 April 2013
I bought this book because I liked the Groundhog Day concept, and was intrigued to see how the author had tackled it. Sadly, it was beyond her ability as a writer to deal with something so challenging. Unlike Niffeneggar, who coped brilliantly with an equally challenging idea in The Time Traveler's Wife, Atkinson's effort is banal, gossipy ('Bridget had a pash on George' - no, she wouldn't have said that in 1914), trivial, intellectually barren, and badly organised. It was impossible to follow what was going on and, as one reviewer has already said, the story just wasn't finished. Put simply, it's an incompetent, boring book.
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on 19 February 2014
Kate Atkinson has done a brief internet search of a job of describing a historical period - the 1930's - it's just a shame that she chose to set the book off 1914. Sylvie is the wife of a banker and yet she has no maid or nanny, choosing to breastfeed her children herself - which is highly unlikely for an upper class woman who has married beneath her. I could understand it if Sylvie spent her time trying to impress the neighbour's as this would be far more believable. She has no staff but her husband has an electrical generator in the basement (a luxury available mostly to the aristocracy at the time due to cost). The women's dresses 'swish' in the night air - Edwardian women wore slim, tapered dresses which were restrictive and didn't allow for such movement. Sylvie takes her baby into a hedge to breastfeed him - utterly unthinkable for a middle class Edwardian woman and how would she have got out of her dress? Most Edwardian women couldn't get out of their clothes without assistance. She also takes her baby to a picnic in a papoose? In addition to these gaffs an Englishwoman gets to meet with Hitler (which Hitler comments on), who is surrounded by security, and no one thinks to check her handbag for a revolver beforehand? Historically inaccurate from the very start which makes it difficult for anyone with a sense of history to read.
In addition there is nothing in the story to bind you to either Sylvie or Ursula - are we supposed to feel sorry for Sylvie? Ursula is devoid of any personality which leaves you wondering where it is all going. Something I'm not going to find out as I've put it down and am not going to bother with the rest as it's far too jarring. If I hadn't broken the spine this would be heading back to the shop.
Please - buy Longbourn or The Help instead - utterly joyous to read and so minutely accurate to their historical time period. Both offer characters of such depth that you end up feeling like you know them.
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on 10 March 2014
On a snowy night in 1910, Ursula is born and almost immediately dies. Then she's born again, makes a little further into childhood and dies again. Oh, I'm forgetting the previous life where she makes it to adulthood in order to be in a certain German café in the late nineteen thirties in order to have coffee and cake with a certain German politician. Confused yet? You will be. Life After Life tracks the multiple lives and deaths of a woman who lives through (or not, as the case may be) the many turbulent events of the twentieth century.

I love Kate Atkinson's style of writing and am a big fan of the Jackson Brodie books. Therefore, my utter frustration with this book (and those who manage to read the phrase 'darkness falls' for the fifteenth time and turn the page to realise that you're back in bloody 1910 again without uttering a scream have my admiration) is that the good bits are so damn good. The whole long section that examines Ursula's life (lives) during WW2 is incredibly powerful, for instance, and many of the characters are wonderfully drawn.

But.. but... it's just too damn clever for its own good. At the end of it, darkness didn't fall, but annoyance fairly swamped me.
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on 4 January 2014
I usually love Kate Atkinson's writing and have read several of her works, but this one was dull and repetitive. I found myself just having to get through it, hoping it would improve but it didn't.

I usually love Kate Atkinson's books, and have read many of her stories, but this one was dull and repetitive. I found myself just plodding through it, waiting for the end.

I usually love the stuff Kate Atkinson writes, but this one was dull and repetitive.

Oh, you get the gist.
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on 23 November 2013
I read this book on my Kindle before looking at other readers' reviews. I'd never read Kate Atkinson's work before so didn't know what to expect. Now having read other people's reviews, I suspect it's not typical of her work.

I've given the novel three stars because I sort of enjoyed it. It was well written and I didn't ever think of giving up, which some other readers did.

However, I was confused because Ursula (the main character) died early on in the novel, only to reappear in the next chapter when older. The first time it happened, I thought perhaps she hadn't died at all and that all would be revealed in due course. Throughout the novel she seemed to be reincarnated again and again, each time to die in different circumstances and at different ages.

The penny eventually dropped and I realised that the novel was exploring what might have happened if Ursula (a) had not died or (b) had made different choices in life. Perhaps if I hadn't been reading on a Kindle, I would have grasped the point more quickly because I would have flicked back to re-read previous sections and get some clues as to what the book was about. The other explanation is that maybe I'm a bit thick.

I found the later chapters slightly bewildering as the same characters reappeared in Ursula's different 'lives' in various situations. That said, I felt compelled to read on and finish the book.
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on 25 March 2013
I have read everything that Kate Atkinson has written and rate her as one of the best novelists currently at work in the UK. Every so often she writes something that goes out on a limb, and those books I usually enjoy less than the others. Emotionally weird was one such and this latest novel is another. All the classic Atkinson qualities are here - dazzling cleverness, a terrific sense of humour, deep insight into how families work (and don't) and a prose style to die for. Some of the familiar mannerisms - like the constant authorial asides and whimsical notes - are getting a bit out of control but she remains a truly rewarding read. However, the life constantly relived framework that underpins this book had the effect of distancing me from Ursula and even the members of her family. I can see how brilliantly it's assembled, and the characterization is as rich and varied as ever, but the book left me cold emotionally.
Also, there is just too much historical box ticking in this book. August 1914 tick, Spanish flu tick, general strike tick, rise of the Nazis tick, September 1939 tick, London Blitz tick, VE Day tick. And I'm sorry, but planning to assassinate Hitler was deeply disappointing, not at all worthy of Atkinson.
Still, judging by the reviews I'm very much in the minority on this book and I shall still look forward eagerly to her next one. Fond as we all are of Jackson Brodie she can't just keep producing books about him. And she does bring home the full horror of aerial bombardment better than almost anybody has.
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on 12 April 2013
Haven't come across a negative review anywhere, so here goes - a first. I hated the way everyone's speech was littered with quotations or literary allusions. Who speaks like that?! Whoever spoke like that, if that's the better question? Even if they do/did, it irritated the hell out of me. Talk about NOT wearing your learning lightly....It really did seem like showing off. Kate Atkinson said on the radio that she now trusted her reader more. she doesn't need to tell us something was said "sarcastically" when it's blindingly obvious, if that's the case. And I couldn't buy into the premise, i just couldn't. Was she learning from her re-births or wasn't she?And what about all the other characters, were they experiencing multiple lives, too?If so, how come they weren't doing things differently second/27th time round?I clearly haven't got the hang of this reincarnation business.
I seem to be a lone voice, so if you really don't mind the whole "here we go again" stuff that doesn't seem to add up and having unnecessary chunks of poetry shoved at you right, left and centre - you may enjoy this book.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 13 March 2013
February 1910: It is snowing heavily; Sylvie is giving birth; the baby is born with the umbilical cord around her neck; the doctor fails to arrive in time; the baby sadly dies.
Rewind: February 1910: It is snowing heavily; Sylvie is giving birth; the baby is born with the umbilical cord around her neck; the doctor is present, he springs into action, cuts the cord with his surgical scissors; the baby (Ursula) lives.

June 1914: We are at the beach; Ursula and her older sister go for paddle; they soon find themselves out of their depth; a large wave pulls them off their feet; Ursula is sucked beneath the waves and is drowned.
Rewind: June 1914: We are at the beach; Ursula and her older sister go for a paddle; a large wave pulls them off their feet; Ursula is sucked beneath the waves; Mr Archibald Winton, painting a seascape on his easel on the beach, sees the girls, rushes into the water and saves Ursula.

Sounds unusual? Well, this is an unusual story, told in an unusual, but rather clever way. It is the story of Ursula Todd and we follow her as she lives her intriguing life in various different ways, with various different outcomes. For instance: in 1918 does the Todd family's maid go to London for the Armistice celebrations and bring back with her the deadly Spanish Flu virus which results in the deaths of certain members of the family - or does something or someone prevent her even getting to London in the first place? When Ursula reaches adulthood does she marry an abusive bully, or does she travel to Germany, and lead quite a different life which brings her into the orbit of Adolf Hitler? Does Ursula have the gift of deja vu and, if she does, is she blessed or cursed? Or has Ursula been given the chance to live her life again and again, until she finally gets it right?

'Life After Life' is an inventive piece of fiction writing and quite an amazing story which looks at how even the smallest event in a person's life can have devastating consequences on what follows afterwards. It shows us how potential dangers hide in wait for us; of how close we all are to misfortune; and of how one small decision can turn a situation around and change it completely. I found this an intriguing and fascinating read with some wonderful characters, especially Ursula's aunt Izzie, an irreverent, irrepressible and eccentric woman who dances her way through the pages of the book; there is Miss Woolf, a retired matron and resourceful senior ARP warden who works with Ursula during the Blitz; and then there is the family cook, Mrs Glover, with her dour sense of humour, who is not averse to whacking the Todd children around the back of the legs with a balloon whisk when she feels it necessary; and even some of the minor characters are worth a mention, such as the psychiatrist a ten-year-old Ursula sees for her 'deja vu problem', who serves her black tea from a samovar, and half expects her to be able diagnose her problem herself. And, of course, there is the wonderful Ursula herself.

For originality and quality of writing this book deserves 5 stars plus and I found myself becoming drawn into Ursula's story from the first pages; however I did find that I was prevented from becoming as deeply involved with the characters and their situations as much as I would have liked, because it soon became clear that a few pages or chapters later, their situation could change entirely, and I also found myself wondering how long our heroine was going to survive before the next misfortune befell her, and how soon the author would turn the story around and change the outcome completely. That said, this is an ambitious and clever novel where the constant shifts in time and situation keep you on your toes throughout the entire book, and also where the author shows how good she is at describing the texture and essence of daily life, especially her portrayal of London during the Blitz which was powerful, vivid and unsettling to read. So, in summary, if you prefer a linear narrative where you can build a relationship with the characters by following their story over a series of chronological events, this may not be to your taste, but if you are looking for something intriguing and rather different and a story which keeps you wondering, then this one is for you.
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on 25 June 2014
I am SUCH a Kate Atkinson fan and have devoured, adored and re-read everything she has written before. So, it was with a sense of fevered anticipation I launched into 'Life After Life' especially after reading the corking endorsements and quotations from literary greats and critics.

But I actively disliked it and it left me completely cold. Whilst the central idea of Ursula's being born, making decisions about her life, dying and being re-born to make different decisions is fantastic, for me personally, it just didn't work. I found myself unable to identify with Ursula as a complex, rounded character and so I didn't really care what happened to her. There was no sufficient link or context for me before we got to each crucial decision that would lead to her death this time round and so I hadn't engaged emotionally with her journey. So I didn't care. The characters around her were one dimensional ciphers - only there to provide a backdrop for her next death and so I didn't believe in or engage with any of them. The section in Germany was the weakest for me and the one I had most interest in and hope for initially - but it just was not convincing at all. The best parts were concerning the Blitz which were beautiful, moving and illuminating descriptions of an event most of us know very little about and I found myself thoroughly engaged with those section.

I appear to be in a very small club of people who did not enjoy this; I think Kate Atkinson is a fabulous writer but this is not typical of her style (I missed the hilarious, colourful, brilliantly drawn characters, breathless pace and fantastic storytelling). I can't remember when I was last so disappointed.
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on 10 August 2014
My hubby’s Gran once told me that as you grow old you don’t regret the things you’ve done as much as you regret the things you wish you’d done. She lived well into her 90s so I guess she knew what she was talking about, although her philosophy does tend to assume that the wished-for-but-not-done things wouldn’t have been so reckless/stupid/unlucky as to have (a) killed her or (b) caused irreparable, life-changing, physical or emotional harm. Carpe diem! Yes – but only up to a point.

So how do you know where to draw the line? How do you seize the day and also live to see (but not regret) the next? In other words how do you get life right first time? Or – better – what if you could live again and again until you get life to work out how you want it to? (Better because if you haven’t experienced bad by what yardstick do you measure what’s good?) This is the basic premise of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, winner of the 2013 Costa Novel Award.

Ursula is born during a snow-storm in 1910. She dies at birth, strangled by her umbilical cord. She dies in childhood accidents and illness. As a teenager she dies of a botched abortion. She dies at the hands of an abusive husband and, later, several times in the Second World War, mostly in London during the Blitz – described by Atkinson as the “dark, beating heart of the novel” – but also, in a variation that sees her living in Germany, in Berlin just before the Russian occupation. Post-war she commits suicide. Pre-war she shoots Hitler to prevent him coming to power (“one of the most potent and familiar” what if scenarios according to Atkinson).

It’s Nirvana with a twist: “coming back as the same person in the same circumstances” but tweaking certain things, making certain changes, apparently small but actually the difference between life and death. Or as Ursula’s mother, Sylvie, would have it, “Practice makes perfect.”

Visit www.whatcathyread.wordpress.com for more reviews.
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