Cover image for Life after life : a novel / Kate Atkinson.
Title:
Life after life : a novel / Kate Atkinson.
ISBN:
9780385671378
Publication Information:
[Toronto] : Bond Street Books, Doubleday Canada, [2013]

©2013
Physical Description:
473 pages ; 24 cm.
Abstract:
"What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war. Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can--will she? Darkly comic, startlingly poignant, and utterly original--this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best"--Provided by publisher.
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Summary

Summary

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.


Author Notes

Kate Atkinson was born in York, and studied English Literature at the University of Dundee. She earned her Masters Degree from Dundee in 1974. She then went on to study for a doctorate in American Literature but she failed at the viva (oral examination) stage. After leaving the university, she took on a variety of jobs from home help to legal secretary and teacher. Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year ahead of Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh and Roy Jenkins's biography of William Ewart Gladstone. It went on to be a Sunday Times bestseller.

Since then, she has published another five novels, one play, and one collection of short stories. Her work is often celebrated for its wit, wisdom and subtle characterisation, and the surprising twists and plot turns. Her most recent work has featured the popular former detective Jackson Brodie. In 2009, she donated the short story Lucky We Live Now to Oxfam's 'Ox-Tales' project, four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. Atkinson's story was published in the 'Earth' collection. In March 2010, Atkinson appeared at the York Literature Festival, giving a world-premier reading from an early chapter from her forthcoming novel Started Early, Took My Dog, which is set mainly in the English city of Leeds.

Atkinson's bestselling novel, Life after Life, has won numerous awards, including the COSTA Novel Award for 2013. The follow-up to Life After Life is A God in Ruins and was published in 2015. This title won a Costa Book Award 2015 in the novel category.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

"AFTER the first death, there is no other," Dylan Thomas wrote. How obvious, one might think. But the one-time-only nature of death is anything but self-evident in Kate Atkinson's new novel, "Life After Life." Its heroine, Ursula Todd, keeps dying, then dying again. She dies when she is being born, on a snowy night in 1910. As a child, she drowns, falls off a roof and contracts influenza. Later, she commits suicide and is murdered. She is killed during the German bombing of London in World War II and ends her life in the ruins of Berlin in 1945. Each time Ursula dies, Atkinson - a British writer best known here as the author of "Case Histories," the first in a series of highly entertaining mysteries featuring the sleuth Jackson Brodie -resurrects her and sets her on one of the many alternate courses that her destiny might have taken. A great deal of experience, and 20th-century history, transpires in the intervals separating Ursula's sudden and often violent exits from the world of the living. The novel begins with a scene in which she assassinates Hitler. Her serial and parallel existences take her through two brutal world wars and well into the 1960s. But each turn in her story is, like the end(s) of her life, subject to revision. As a teenager living at Fox Corner, her family home in the British countryside, she is raped and becomes pregnant, but in another version the encounter with her American attacker involves little more than a stolen kiss. A bullying first marriage is endured, and its ensuing tragedy wiped clean from the slate. Romances begin and end, then begin again, taking different trajectories. Ursula learns about her father's death in a letter she receives in Germany, where she has been trapped by the outbreak of World War II, and where she befriends Eva Braun and visits the Führer at his mountaintop retreat. But in a different rendition, she is in England when her father succumbs to a heart attack, and with her family for his funeral. A murdered child turns out not to be dead. Or is she? A dog named Lucky makes cameo appearances that the reader can't help seeing through the scrim of the transient but critical roles that the dog has already played in the plot. The mostly brief chapters, dated by month and year, keep us oriented amid the rapid chronological shifts backward and forward. And there are several relatively still points around which the whirling machinery turns. Sylvie, Ursula's mother, remains dependably snobbish and caustic, just as Ursula's free-spirited Aunt Izzie continues to provide shelter, help and the example of nervy rebelliousness for which such aunts are created in fiction and film. In several of her lives, Ursula attends secretarial school in London and travels in Continental Europe. Atkinson's juggling a lot at once - and nimbly succeeds in keeping the novel from becoming confusing. Even so, reading the book is a mildly vertiginous experience, rather like using the "scenes" function on a DVD to scramble the film's original order. At times "Life After Life" suggests a cross between Noël Coward's "Brief Encounter" and those interactive "hypertext" novels whose computer-sawy readers can determine the direction of the story. The first few reverses are startling, but after a while it begins to seem quite normal (if still pleasantly jolting) when a character who, we think, has left the narrative forever reappears in another guise or is seen from a new perspective. And the surprise of what happens is less intense than the unexpectedness of what doesn't happen: what seemingly irreversible damage is repaired with the "delete" key. In theory, this narrative method should violate one of the most basic contracts a writer makes with the reader: the promise that what happens to the characters actually does (insofar as the author knows) happen to the characters. But it's interesting to note how quickly Atkinson's new rules replace the old ones, how assuredly she rewrites the contract: we will stay tuned as long as she keeps us interested and curious about what all this is adding up to. Each tragedy continues to surprise and disturb us, even as we learn to expect that the victim will be all right in the morning. Inevitably, metaphysics creeps in. We travel and return to the psychiatrist's office where Ursula's parents take her, at age 10, for sessions in which the conversation touches on reincarnation and the nature of time. When Dr. Kellet suggests that the moody, spacey Ursula may be remembering other lives and asks her to draw something, she produces a snake with its tail in its mouth. "It's a symbol representing the circularity of the universe," the doctor explains. "Time is a construct, in reality everything flows, no past or present, only the now." Atkinson is having fun with this, as she often seems to be in the novel, which is as much about writing as it is about anything else. So many excellent books are read and quoted by its characters that the novel could provide a useful bibliography. Here's a partial list of writers alluded to in these pages: Austen, Byron, Keats, Eliot (George and T. S.), Dante, Dickens, Donne, Marvell, D.H. Lawrence, Ibsen and Marlowe. It crosses one's mind that Ursula's marriage to the controlling and bullying Derek Oliphant, fervently at work on his textbook about the Tudors and the Plantagenets, seems familiar. Eventually, Ursula discovers that her husband's book is basically nonsense, and comes to the conclusion that fans of "Middlemarch" will already have reached. "She had married a Casaubon, she realized." Ursula takes "The Magic Mountain" with her when she goes up to the Berghof with Eva Braun, only to be informed, by a "nice" officer in the Wehrmacht, that Mann's novel is one of the books that have been banned by the Nazi Party. And one of the dark plot threads running through the weft of the novel - the disappearance of a little girl - recalls Atkinson's own "Case Histories." "LIFE AFTER LIFE" makes the reader acutely conscious of an author's power: how much the novelist can do. Kill a character, bring her back. Start a world war or prevent one. Bomb London, destroy Berlin. Write a scene from one point of view, then rewrite it from another. Try it this way, then that Make your character perish in a bombed-out building during the blitz, then make her part of the rescue team that (in a scene with the same telling details) tries unsuccessfully to save her. One of the things I like most about British mystery novels (including Kate Atkinson's) is the combination of good writing and a certain theatrical bravado. Their authors enjoy showing us how expertly they can construct a puzzle, then solve it: the literary equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. "Life After Life" inspires a similar sort of admiration, as Atkinson sharpens our awareness of the apparently limitless choices and decisions that a novelist must make on every page, and of what is gained and lost when the consequences of these choices are, like life, singular and final. The heroine keeps dying, then dying again. She dies when she is born, on a snowy night in 1910. Fremerne Prose's most recent novel is "My New American Life."


Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

November 1930 A 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. Excerpted from Life after Life by Kate Atkinson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.