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It begins with snow: A Review of Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’

Book cover of Life After Life.

Life After Life has been talked about a lot since its release in 2013. It is indeed a bold step for author Kate Atkinson, although, I believe it is one that has paid off.

The book follows the life/lives of Ursula from her birth on February 10th, 1910. When I first saw the book, without knowing too much about it, I presumed that the story would be some kind of reincarnation story where the main character would be a fish, then Cleopatra, then Stalin, and then Madonna. Or something like it. Although, I had it all wrong.

Atkinson has created a beautiful narrative that asks the question:

“What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?”

From her first breath, Ursula starts to realise that she is not like normal girls. As she repeats her life over and over, she starts to have strong feelings of déjà vu. And slowly, as she becomes more aware of her ability to change the fate of her life, and the lives of people around her, she goes from being a passive onlooker to an active force to be reckoned with.

Throughout her many lives, Ursula assassinates Hitler; marries an abusive man who beats her to death; works throughout the London Blitz helping put out fires and help the wounded; she is raped and has an abortion; she becomes a German citizen; she spends a summer with Eva and Hitler; and rescues a dog, that she later calls Lucky.

The magic of Atkinson’s writing is that the repetition of the same life, Ursula’s, is not overwhelming or boring. Each time the snow falls and the dark bat takes Ursula back to her birth on that cold February night, a new facet of the narrative appears. Different perspectives from the characters shine through, and the repetition fills the story with layer after layer of character, plot, and style.

To be honest, and this has been said by many others who have read Life After Life, Atkinson’s writing really shines when she is describing the London Blitz. It is filled with heartache and sorrow along with that carry-on British attitude. The scenes she describes can be quite blunt and confronting, but they are also paired with a dark humour that reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House 5, “So it goes.”

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. And I’m sure you will be too. As always, share the reading love.

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