life after life review

Life After Life: A Sort-of WWII Story, Over and Over Again

Ages ago this book was recommended to me, so it has been on my radar for quite some time. Recently I was talking about WWII books with some bookish friends, and this title came up again. I decided it was time for me to read it. In short, the story is about a London-woman, Ursula, who restarts her life every time she dies. The concept, at first, is fascinating and fun to read through. After a 15+ hour audiobook, however, it became a little tiresome.

Life After Life: A Sort-of WWII Story, Over and Over AgainLife After Life by Kate Atkinson
Published by Reagan Arthur Books on April 2nd 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 531
Length: 15 hrs and 31 mins
Format: Audiobook
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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.

1) A series of lives, 2) WWII London, and 3) the consequences of choices made

The book begins when Ursula is born in 1910. You are taken through various scenes of of Ursula’s life that sometimes go through the 1940’s and even beyond. Every time Ursula dies (which happens sometimes as an infant, sometimes as a youth, sometimes as an adult), the story restarts in 1910 again.

This book had a lot of positives going for it: It is wonderfully detailed. You can tell Atkinson spent a lot of time researching the details. The writing is also lovely. It manages to be pretty without being ostentatious and distracting. I also quite enjoyed the idea of Ursula’s life repeating over and over again. I particularly enjoyed seeing how scenes we’d already read through alter just slightly to result in a difficult outcome. 


It says this in the synopsis: “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?”

Almost as soon as you start the book, you know that the “inevitable destiny” is World War II. So I was left believing the book was going to culminate at how she would essentially save the world from the horrors of the second world war. 

Whelp, turns out that was an extremely minor part of the plot. And even when it does happen, it kind of doesn’t? View Spoiler »

While I loved the idea of this book, after a few “restarts,” I began to grow tired of it. I wanted her life to stop restarting! I wanted things to settle and for her to have just one life that as the reader, I would grow attached to and could believe in. As the story progressed, I found myself not caring what would happen in subsequent lives, because I knew that she would eventually just die and things would start over. 

There were times when I was left questioning what the point of the book was. 

So after some thought, I decided that the book was about the choices we make and how the smallest things can affect our lives in ways we’ll never know. Beyond that, I can’t figure it out.


I liked this book, but it almost had the cheap-feeling that you get when the conclusion of the story is, “It was all a dream.”


Have you read a book recently that left you wondering what the point of it all was? 

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  1. I haven’t read many books with that theme of restarting lives/ second chances after death but I remember struggling with the few I did read. I got bored reading the same scenarios over and over again (though these only restarted the day of the death, not the entire life)

    Does she keep her memories/ knowledge from each life? Or does it start from scratch every time? If it starts from scratch that makes it incredibly difficult to promote any sort of book long plot line.
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    1. She basically starts from scratch. She’ll having little flickers of some vague memory, but not enough to do much from it – just to alter the course slightly so the same thing doesn’t happy. It was definitely exhausting.