Review: Life After Life

Life After Life
Life After Life
By Kate Atkinson
(Reagan Arthur Books, Hardcover, 9780316176484, April 2013, 544pp.)

The Short of It:

Interesting premise and at times, fluid, beautifully written passages but overall, one of the most frustrating reads I’ve read in years.

The Rest of It:

The story begins in 1930. Ursula Todd assassinates Hitler while he is sitting in a cafe in Munich and she dies in the process. Next, the story takes us back to 1910, the night of Ursula’s birth. Due to bad weather, the doctor is unable to attend her birth and the poor girl dies with the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around her neck. As Atkinson takes us back and forth through time, we see Ursula in various stages of life. Sometimes, she’s a child and ends up drowning in the ocean, other times…she’s older and as readers, we get to spend a little time with her family before tragedy strikes.

But tragedy does strike and over and over again, at that.

I really had a hard time with this one. The writing itself wasn’t bad. In fact, much of it is beautifully written but I didn’t care for Ursula all that much so seeing her die and come back so many times was a bit much for me. Oh, and it was long, which of course felt even longer with all of the back and forth going on.

The one thing that kept me reading is the idea that one small change can affect your life. That aspect of it was interesting to explore but it was ultimately lost within the structure of the novel itself.

My book club is discussing this book later this week. I’m interested in how the discussion will go because I feel as if I’ve spent so much time with it, that I don’t want to spend more time discussing it.

Have you read this one? What did you think of it?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

33 thoughts on “Review: Life After Life”

  1. I read this on the flight to Poland, so I had the advantage of reading it one sitting. At first, I was not invested in Ursula but as the book progressed and Atkinson delved into her character and she spent more time on her “lives”, I began to really get drawn into the story. The one big thing I struggled with was the end…what was the point? If she keeps dying and coming back, and things generally go back to where they were before (Hitler still lives) then what is the message? Beyond the one you mentioned, that is. I wanted a purpose.

    1. Yep. I expected her to go somewhere with it or to make some sort of statement but if she did, I missed it. 


  2. I think this is going to be a great book club book, because people seem to fall pretty firmly on the side of loving or hating it. I had a discussion on my blog instead of reviewing it (because I read it so much later than everyone else) and it even got pretty lively there. I enjoyed it, but definitely had a few specific issues with it. I bet you’ll have tons to talk about, and that always makes for the best meetings!

    1. Very true., I don’t need to love a book in order to discuss it. Prediction. My group will be split. I’d bet money on it. 


  3. I had read a few chapters of this one, long back, and never finished it. It didn’t feel too interesting to me and when it was due back at the library, I gave it back. Sounds like it will be frustrating to me too.

    1. At first, I thought it was rather novel, the idea of rehashing a person’s life over and over again with little tibdits changed here and there, but after 500 pages of it I was so over it. Ursula was a huge bore, in my opinion. Had she been more interesting, I would have enjoyed the experience more. 


  4. Oh my, Ti, I felt the same way you did, only I gave up on it. It was too much work and not enough reward. And like you, I didn’t care for Ursula. This book was more experiment than story, but it sure has made waves, as these outre arrivals often do. Atkinson has demonstrated her brilliance in previous works; with this book, it seems she is trying to outdo herself.

  5. i hated this book and felt like I was the only person who did!!confusing..frustrating..and it makes me think that her other books, which are sitting on my shelves, should go to goodwill unread

    1. I read one other book by her, Case Histories and that was much, much better so I wouldn’t donate those books quite yet and  she does have quite a bit of a following but this one… oh my word. I wanted Ursula to stay dead!! How horrible is that???


  6. I actually adored this book. I was leery when I went in…I thought it would read as too gimmick-y. But, to my delight, I really enjoyed it. I’ve seen quite a few people have the opposite reaction though, lol. This might be a case of love it or hate it.

    1. I started to get into it towards the end but then the end didn’t cut it for me. 


  7. I have this one on my shelf waiting to be read. I thought the premise sounded interesting, but after reading your post, I’m wondering how much I’ll like it now. Sounds like it should make for great discussion at book club.

  8. OH no, I LOVED LOVED LOVED this one. 😀
    But you would expect nothing less from me, right?
    I thought Ursula was great – loved her character not that I remember why exactly but I was really rooting for her. I cried, I laughed, I thought the whole thing very very well done. I just let myself get into each new iteration. Her dad was great, her mom not so much and when she finally started to think maybe something was up, the pace sped up and I was breathless to figure it all out. ONE of my TOP 3 reads of last year. (and Beautiful Ruins! HAHA) But don’t worry, my very best IRL reading buddy didn’t finish it. In fact, most of my friends hated it.
    I was so thrilled to see it make the Tournament of Books finals.

    1. Now I am left scratching my head. I am puzzled. BAFFLED by this one. I tried so hard to understand the point and to get a feel for  Ursula but she lacked warmth and wasn’t quirky enough to make up for that lack of warmth. It really seems as if people are split 50/50 on this one and either love it, or hate it. 


  9. I HATED listening to this book. I kept thinking it would get better then….no………I wasn’t invested in Ursula at all and the do-overs were so subtle that if you hadn’t read the blurb, you’d miss them.

    1. I am glad you brought up the audio. I TRIED to listen to the audio but the reader’s voice didn’t do it for me. I think she is the same person that narrated Never Let Me Go which I also hated on audio. Cold, sterile voice = snooze fest.


  10. My thoughts echoes yours exactly. I was not fond of this book at all. I had such high hopes for it though because I love time travel/alternate world/parallel world stories.

    I had read a book blog review that gave it high marks, so I automatically put a library hold on it. It took months before my hold finally came through. I dived into the book eagerly and with high expectations and was sorely disappointed. The book started out well, but about half way through, it started to fizzle, and I just wanted it to come to an end.

    The book started to become very frustrating because I had a hard time following the timeline, and I hate feeling confused when I am readng a book.

    1. Exactly. And every time I heard that date, Feb 11th or whatever it was, I knew she’d die so the suspense or lead-up seemed long and drawn-out.


  11. I absolutely loved this book, the writing, the character, all the different ways her lives turned out. I couldn’t get enough of it. I guess if I had any complaints, it would be the end. I was satisfied with it, but given the rest of the book, it could have been more profound.

    1. Yes, there are those that loved this one. I guess I just wasn’t one of them. I wanted to see that the changes she made made enough of an impact on history in general but that was never the case. Unless I missed something. I was skimming towards he end. 


  12. I read this last summer and wish that I had loved it like everyone else did. I found the writing to be beautiful but by the end I couldn’t care any more what Ursula was going to be doing in her next life or why this was happening to her in the first place. My book club all felt pretty lukewarm towards it as well. I honestly can’t figure out why this one is SO praised! Bad Trish.

    1. With some books, you just know that you are missing something. With this one, I don’t know. I really didn’t care about Ursula AT ALL.  Someone mentioned the humor. Humor?? Really? I couldn’t find it. 


  13. I thought I would like this book because the premise is so intriguing, but your review has convinced me that it’s not for me–watching a main character once can be jarring, repeatedly sounds like torture!

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