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Life After Life
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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.
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
A Preview of A God in Ruins
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BE YE MEN OF VALOR
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 makeup—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 kneesocks, 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 leveled 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.
11 February 1910
An icy rush of air, a freezing slipstream on the newly exposed skin. She is, with no warning, outside the inside and the familiar wet, tropical world has suddenly evaporated. Exposed to the elements. A prawn peeled, a nut shelled.
No breath. All the world come down to this. One breath.
Little lungs, like dragonfly wings failing to inflate in the foreign atmosphere. No wind in the strangled pipe. The buzzing of a thousand bees in the tiny curled pearl of an ear.
Panic. The drowning girl, the falling bird.
Dr. Fellowes should have been here," Sylvie moaned. "Why isn't he here yet? Where is he?" Big dewdrop pearls of sweat on her skin, a horse nearing the end of a hard race. The bedroom fire stoked like a ship's furnace. The thick brocade curtains drawn tightly against the enemy, the night. The black bat.
"Yer man'll be stuck in the snow, I expect, ma'am. It's sure dreadful wild out there. The road will be closed."
Sylvie and Bridget were alone in their ordeal. Alice, the parlor maid, was visiting her sick mother. And Hugh, of course, was chasing down Isobel, his wild goose of a sister, à Paris. Sylvie had no wish to involve Mrs. Glover, snoring in her attic room like a truffling hog. Sylvie imagined she would conduct proceedings like a parade-ground sergeant major. The baby was early. Sylvie was expecting it to be late like the others. The best-laid plans, and so on.
"Oh, ma'am," Bridget cried suddenly, "she's all blue, so she is."
"The cord's wrapped around her neck. Oh, Mary, Mother of God. She's been strangled, the poor wee thing."
"Not breathing? Let me see her. We must do something. What can we do?"
"Oh, Mrs. Todd, ma'am, she's gone. Dead before she had a chance to live. I'm awful, awful sorry. She'll be a little cherub in heaven now, for sure. Oh, I wish Mr. Todd was here. I'm awful sorry. Shall I wake Mrs. Glover?"
The little heart. A helpless little heart beating wildly. Stopped suddenly like a bird dropped from the sky. A single shot.
11 February 1910
"For God's sake, girl, stop running around like a headless chicken and fetch some hot water and towels. Do you know nothing? Were you raised in a field?"
"Sorry, sir." Bridget dipped an apologetic curtsy as if Dr. Fellowes were minor royalty.
"A girl, Dr. Fellowes? May I see her?"
"Yes, Mrs. Todd, a bonny, bouncing baby girl." Sylvie thought Dr. Fellowes might be over-egging the pudding with his alliteration. He was not one for bonhomie at the best of times. The health of his patients, particularly their exits and entrances, seemed designed to annoy him.
"She would have died from the cord around her neck. I arrived at Fox Corner in the nick of time. Literally." Dr. Fellowes held up his surgical scissors for Sylvie's admiration. They were small and neat and their sharp points curved upward at the end. "Snip, snip," he said. Sylvie made a mental note, a small, vague one, given her exhaustion and the circumstances of it, to buy just such a pair of scissors, in case of similar emergency. (Unlikely, it was true.) Or a knife, a good sharp knife to be carried on one's person at all times, like the robber girl in The Snow Queen.
"You were lucky I got here in time," Dr. Fellowes said. "Before the snow closed the roads. I called for Mrs. Haddock, the midwife, but I believe she is stuck somewhere outside Chalfont St. Peter."
"Mrs. Haddock?" Sylvie said and frowned. Bridget laughed out loud and then quickly mumbled, "Sorry, sorry, sir." Sylvie supposed that she and Bridget were both on the edge of hysteria. Hardly surprising.
"Bog Irish," Dr. Fellowes muttered.
"Bridget's only a scullery maid, a child herself. I am very grateful to her. It all happened so quickly." Sylvie thought how much she wanted to be alone, how she was never alone. "You must stay until morning, I suppose, doctor," she said reluctantly.
"Well, yes, I suppose I must," Dr. Fellowes said, equally reluctantly.
Sylvie sighed and suggested that he help himself to a glass of brandy in the kitchen. And perhaps some ham and pickles. "Bridget will see to you." She wanted rid of him. He had delivered all three (three!) of her children and she did not like him one bit. Only a husband should see what he saw. Pawing and poking with his instruments in her most delicate and secretive places. (But would she rather have a midwife called Mrs. Haddock deliver her child?) Doctors for women should all be women themselves. Little chance of that.
Dr. Fellowes lingered, humming and hawing, overseeing the washing and wrapping of the new arrival by a hot-faced Bridget. Bridget was the eldest of seven so she knew how to swaddle an infant. She was fourteen years old, ten years younger than Sylvie. When Sylvie was fourteen she was still in short skirts, in love with her pony, Tiffin. Had no idea where babies came from, even on her wedding night she remained baffled. Her mother, Lottie, had hinted but had fallen shy of anatomical exactitude. Conjugal relations between man and wife seemed, mysteriously, to involve larks soaring at daybreak. Lottie was a reserved woman. Some might have said narcoleptic. Her husband, Sylvie's father, Llewellyn Beresford, was a famous society artist but not at all Bohemian. No nudity or louche behavior in his household. He had painted Queen Alexandra, when she was still a princess. Said she was very pleasant.
They lived in a good house in Mayfair, while Tiffin was stabled in a mews near Hyde Park. In darker moments, Sylvie was wont to cheer herself up by imagining that she was back there in the sunny past, sitting neatly in her side-saddle on Tiffin's broad little back, trotting along Rotten Row on a clean spring morning, the blossom bright on the trees.
"How about some hot tea and a nice bit of buttered toast, Mrs. Todd?" Bridget said.
"That would be lovely, Bridget."
The baby, bandaged like a Pharaonic mummy, was finally passed to Sylvie. Softly, she stroked the peachy cheek and said, "Hello, little one," and Dr. Fellowes turned away so as not to be a witness to such syrupy demonstrations of affection. He would have all children brought up in a new Sparta if it were up to him.
"Well, perhaps a little cold collation wouldn't go amiss," he said. "Is there, by chance, any of Mrs. Glover's excellent piccalilli?"
FOUR SEASONS FILL THE MEASURE OF THE YEAR
11 February 1910
Sylvie was woken by a dazzling sliver of sunlight piercing the curtains like a shining silver sword. She lay languidly in lace and cashmere as Mrs. Glover came into the room, proudly bearing a huge breakfast tray. Only an occasion of some importance seemed capable of drawing Mrs. Glover this far out of her lair. A single, half-frozen snowdrop drooped in the bud vase on the tray. "Oh, a snowdrop!" Sylvie said. "The first flower to raise its poor head above the ground. How brave it is!"
Mrs. Glover, who did not believe that flowers were capable of courage, or indeed any other character trait, laudable or otherwise, was a widow who had only been with them at Fox Corner a few weeks. Before her advent there had been a woman called Mary who slouched a great deal and burned the roasts. Mrs. Glover tended, if anything, to undercook food. In the prosperous household of Sylvie's childhood, Cook was called "Cook" but Mrs. Glover preferred "Mrs. Glover." It made her irreplaceable. Sylvie still stubbornly thought of her as Cook.
"Thank you, Cook." Mrs. Glover blinked slowly like a lizard. "Mrs. Glover," Sylvie corrected herself.
Mrs. Glover set the tray down on the bed and opened the curtains. The light was extraordinary, the black bat vanquished.
"So bright," Sylvie said, shielding her eyes.
"So much snow," Mrs. Glover said, shaking her head in what could have been wonder or aversion. It was not always easy to tell with Mrs. Glover.
"Where is Dr. Fellowes?" Sylvie asked.
"There was an emergency. A farmer trampled by a bull."
"Some men came from the village and tried to dig his automobile out but in the end my George came and gave him a ride."
"Ah," Sylvie said, as if suddenly understanding something that had puzzled her.
"And they call it horsepower," Mrs. Glover snorted, bull-like herself. "That's what comes of relying on newfangled machines."
"Mm," Sylvie said, reluctant to argue with such strongly held views. She was surprised that Dr. Fellowes had left without examining either herself or the baby.
"He looked in on you. You were asleep," Mrs. Glover said. Sylvie sometimes wondered if Mrs. Glover was a mind reader. A perfectly horrible thought.
"He ate his breakfast first," Mrs. Glover said, displaying both approval and disapproval in the same breath. "The man has an appetite, that's for sure."
"I could eat a horse," Sylvie laughed. She couldn't, of course. Tiffin popped briefly into her mind. She picked up the silver cutlery, heavy like weapons, ready to tackle Mrs. Glover's devilled kidneys. "Lovely," she said (were they?) but Mrs. Glover was already busy inspecting the baby in the cradle. ("Plump as a suckling pig.") Sylvie idly wondered if Mrs. Haddock was still stuck somewhere outside Chalfont St. Peter.
"I hear the baby nearly died," Mrs. Glover said.
"Well…" Sylvie said. Such a fine line between living and dying. Her own father, the society portraitist, slipped on an Isfahan rug on a first-floor landing after some fine cognac one evening. The next morning he was discovered dead at the foot of the stairs. No one had heard him fall or cry out. He had just begun a portrait of the Earl of Balfour. Never finished. Obviously.
Afterward it turned out that he had been more profligate with his money than mother and daughter realized. A secret gambler, markers all over town. He had made no provision at all for unexpected death and soon there were creditors crawling over the nice house in Mayfair. A house of cards as it turned out. Tiffin had to go. Broke Sylvie's heart, the grief greater than any she felt for her father.
"I thought his only vice was women," her mother said, roosting temporarily on a packing case as if modeling for a pietà.
They sank into genteel and well-mannered poverty. Sylvie's mother grew pale and uninteresting, larks soared no more for her as she faded, consumed by consumption. Seventeen-year-old Sylvie was rescued from becoming an artist's model by a man she met at the post office counter. Hugh. A rising star in the prosperous world of banking. The epitome of bourgeois respectability. What more could a beautiful but penniless girl hope for?
Lottie died with less fuss than was expected and Hugh and Sylvie married quietly on Sylvie's eighteenth birthday. ("There," Hugh said, "now you will never forget the anniversary of our marriage.") They spent their honeymoon in France, a delightful quinzaine in Deauville, before settling in semirural bliss near Beaconsfield in a house that was vaguely Lutyens in style. It had everything one could ask for—a large kitchen, a drawing room with French windows onto the lawn, a pretty morning room and several bedrooms waiting to be filled with children. There was even a little room at the back of the house for Hugh to use as a study. "Ah, my growlery," he laughed.
It was surrounded at a discreet distance by similar houses. There was a meadow and a copse and a bluebell wood beyond with a stream running through it. The train station, no more than a halt, would allow Hugh to be at his banker's desk in less than an hour.
"Sleepy hollow," Hugh laughed as he gallantly carried Sylvie across the threshold. It was a relatively modest dwelling (nothing like Mayfair) but nonetheless a little beyond their means, a fiscal recklessness that surprised them both.
We should give the house a name," Hugh said. "The Laurels, the Pines, the Elms."
"But we have none of those in the garden," Sylvie pointed out. They were standing at the French windows of the newly purchased house, looking at a swath of overgrown lawn. "We must get a gardener," Hugh said. The house itself was echoingly empty. They had not yet begun to fill it with the Voysey rugs and Morris fabrics and all the other aesthetic comforts of a twentieth-century house. Sylvie would have quite happily lived in Liberty's rather than the as-yet-to-be-named marital home.
"Greenacres, Fairview, Sunnymead?" Hugh offered, putting his arm around his bride.
The previous owner of their unnamed house had sold up and gone to live in Italy. "Imagine," Sylvie said dreamily. She had been to Italy when she was younger, a grand tour with her father while her mother went to Eastbourne for her lungs.
"Full of Italians," Hugh said dismissively.
"Quite. That's rather the attraction," Sylvie said, unwinding herself from his arm.
"The Gables, the Homestead?"
"Do stop," Sylvie said.
A fox appeared out of the shrubbery and crossed the lawn. "Oh, look," Sylvie said. "How tame it seems, it must have grown used to the house being unoccupied."
"Let's hope the local hunt isn't following on its heels," Hugh said. "It's a scrawny beast."
"It's a vixen. She's a nursing mother, you can see her teats."
Hugh blinked at such blunt terminology falling from the lips of his recently virginal bride. (One presumed. One hoped.)
"Look," Sylvie whispered. Two small cubs sprang out onto the grass and tumbled over each other in play. "Oh, they're such handsome little creatures!"
"Some might say vermin."
"Perhaps they see us as verminous," Sylvie said. "Fox Corner—that's what we should call the house. No one else has a house with that name and shouldn't that be the point?"
"Really?" Hugh said doubtfully. "It's a little whimsical, isn't it? It sounds like a children's story. The House at Fox Corner."
"A little whimsy never hurt anyone."
"Strictly speaking though," Hugh said, "can a house be a corner? Isn't it at one?"
So this is marriage, Sylvie thought.
Two small children peered cautiously round the door. "Here you are," Sylvie said, smiling. "Maurice, Pamela, come and say hello to your new sister."
Warily, they approached the cradle and its contents as if unsure as to what it might contain. Sylvie remembered a similar feeling when viewing her father's body in its elaborate oak-and-brass coffin (charitably paid for by fellow members of the Royal Academy). Or perhaps it was Mrs. Glover they were chary of.
"Another girl," Maurice said gloomily. He was five, two years older than Pamela and the man of the family for as long as Hugh was away. "On business," Sylvie informed people although in fact he had crossed the Channel posthaste to rescue his foolish youngest sister from the clutches of the married man with whom she had eloped to Paris.
Maurice poked a finger in the baby's face and she woke up and squawked in alarm. Mrs. Glover pinched Maurice's ear. Sylvie winced but Maurice accepted the pain stoically. Sylvie thought that she really must have a word with Mrs. Glover when she was feeling stronger.
"What are you going to call her?" Mrs. Glover asked.
"Ursula," Sylvie said. "I shall call her Ursula. It means little she-bear."
Mrs. Glover nodded noncommittally. The middle classes were a law unto themselves. Her own strapping son was a straightforward George. "Tiller of the soil, from the Greek," according to the vicar who christened him and George was indeed a plowman on the nearby Ettringham Hall estate farm, as if the very naming of him had formed his destiny. Not that Mrs. Glover was much given to thinking about destiny. Or Greeks, for that matter.
"Well, must be getting on," Mrs. Glover said. "There'll be a nice steak pie for lunch. And an Egyptian pudding to follow."
Sylvie had no idea what an Egyptian pudding was. She imagined pyramids.
"We all have to keep up our strength," Mrs. Glover said.
"Yes indeed," Sylvie said. "I should probably feed Ursula again for just the same reason!" She was irritated by her own invisible exclamation mark. For reasons she couldn't quite fathom, Sylvie often found herself impelled to adopt an overly cheerful tone with Mrs. Glover, as if trying to restore some kind of natural balance of humors in the world.
Mrs. Glover couldn't suppress a slight shudder at the sight of Sylvie's pale, blue-veined breasts surging forth from her foamy lace peignoir. She hastily shooed the children ahead of her out of the room. "Porridge," she announced grimly to them.
God surely wanted this baby back," Bridget said when she came in later that morning with a cup of steaming beef tea.
"We have been tested," Sylvie said, "and found not wanting."
"This time," Bridget said.
"A telegram," Hugh said, coming unexpectedly into the nursery and ruffling Sylvie out of the pleasant doze she had fallen into while feeding Ursula. She quickly covered herself up and said, "A telegram? Is someone dead?" for Hugh's expression hinted at catastrophe.
"Ah," Sylvie said. "Izzie has had her baby, then."
"If only the bounder hadn't been married," Hugh said. "He could have made an honest woman of my sister."
"An honest woman?" Sylvie mused. "Is there such a thing?" (Did she say that out loud?) "And anyway, she's so very young to be married."
Hugh frowned. It made him seem more handsome. "Only two years younger than you when you married me," he said.
"Yet so much older somehow," Sylvie murmured. "Is all well? Is the baby well?"
It had turned out that Izzie was already noticeably enceinte by the time Hugh caught up with her and dragged her onto the boat train back from Paris. Adelaide, her mother, said she would have preferred it if Izzie had been kidnapped by white slave traders rather than throwing herself into the arms of debauchery with such enthusiasm. Sylvie found the idea of the white slave trade rather attractive—imagined herself being carried off by a desert sheikh on an Arabian steed and then lying on a cushioned divan, dressed in silks and veils, eating sweetmeats and sipping on sherbets to the bubbling sound of rills and fountains. (She expected it wasn't really like that.) A harem of women seemed like an eminently good idea to Sylvie—sharing the burden of a wife's duties and so on.
Adelaide, heroically Victorian in her attitudes, had barred the door, literally, at the sight of her youngest daughter's burgeoning belly and dispatched her back across the Channel to wait out her shame abroad. The baby would be adopted as swiftly as possible. "A respectable German couple, unable to have their own child," Adelaide said. Sylvie tried to imagine giving away a child. ("And will we never hear of it again?" she puzzled. "I certainly hope not," Adelaide said.) Izzie was now to be packed off to a finishing school in Switzerland, even though it seemed she was already finished, in more ways than one.
"A boy," Hugh said, waving the telegram like a flag. "Bouncing, et cetera."
Ursula's own first spring had unfurled. Lying in her pram beneath the beech tree, she had watched the patterns that the light made flickering through the tender green leaves as the breeze delicately swayed the branches. The branches were arms and the leaves were like hands. The tree danced for her. Rock-a-bye baby, Sylvie crooned to her, in the treetop.
I had a little nut tree, Pamela sang lispingly, and nothing would it bear, but a silver nutmeg and a golden pear.
A tiny hare dangled from the hood of the carriage, twirling around, the sun glinting off its silver skin. The hare sat upright in a little basket and had once adorned the top of the infant Sylvie's rattle, the rattle itself, like Sylvie's childhood, long since gone.
Bare branches, buds, leaves—the world as she knew it came and went before Ursula's eyes. She observed the turn of seasons for the first time. She was born with winter already in her bones, but then came the sharp promise of spring, the fattening of the buds, the indolent heat of summer, the mold and mushroom of autumn. From within the limited frame of the pram hood she saw it all. To say nothing of the somewhat random embellishments the seasons brought with them—sun, clouds, birds, a stray cricket ball arcing silently overhead, a rainbow once or twice, rain more often than she would have liked. (There was sometimes a tardiness to rescuing her from the elements.)
Once there had even been the stars and a rising moon—astonishing and terrifying in equal measure—when she had been forgotten one autumn evening. Bridget was castigated. The pram was outside, whatever the weather, for Sylvie had inherited a fixation with fresh air from her own mother, Lottie, who when younger had spent some time in a Swiss sanatorium, spending her days wrapped in a rug, sitting on an outdoor terrace, gazing passively at snowy Alpine peaks.
The beech shed its leaves, papery bronze drifts filling the sky above her head. One boisterously windy November day a threatening figure appeared, peering into the baby carriage. Maurice, making faces at Ursula and chanting, "Goo, goo, goo," before prodding the blankets with a stick. "Stupid baby," he said before proceeding to bury her beneath a soft pile of leaves. She started to fall asleep again beneath her new leafy cover but then a hand suddenly swatted Maurice's head and he yelled, "Ow!" and disappeared. The silver hare pirouetted round and round and a big pair of hands plucked her from the pram and Hugh said, "Here she is," as if she had been lost.
"Like a hedgehog in hibernation," he said to Sylvie.
"Poor old thing," she laughed.
Winter came again. She recognized it from the first time around.
- "There aren't enough breathless adjectives to describe Life After Life: Dazzling, witty, moving, joyful, mournful, profound. Wildly inventive, deeply felt. Hilarious. Humane."—Gillian Flynn, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Gone Girl
- "Life After Life is a masterpiece about how even the smallest choices can sometimes change the course of history. It's wise, bittersweet, funny, and unlike anything else you've ever read. Kate Atkinson is one of my all-time favorite novelists, and I believe this is her best book yet."—J. Courtney Sullivan, bestselling author of Maine and Commencement
- "Kate Atkinson's new novel is a box of delights. Ingenious in construction, indefatigably entertaining, it grips the reader's imagination on the first page and never lets go. If you wish to be moved and astonished, read it. And if you want to give a dazzling present, buy it for your friends."—Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies
- "An audacious, ambitious book that challenges notions of time, fate and free will, not to mention narrative plausibility...[Atkinson's] writing is funny and quirky and sharp and sad - calamity laced with humor - and full of quietly heroic characters who offer knowing Lorrie Moore-esque parenthetical asides...Atkinson's true genius is structure...Each version is entirely and equally credible."—Sarah Lyall, New York Times
- "An exercise in narrative gutsiness; a meditation on history, contingency, and free will; and the best new novel I've read this year."—Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine
- "[Atkinson's] latest novel, Life After Life, is her very best... A big book that defies logic, chronology and even history in ways that underscore its author's fully untethered imagination... Even without the sleight of hand, Life After Life would be an exceptionally captivating book with an engaging cast of characters... [Atkinson's] own writerly cradle was rocked by a very sure hand indeed."—Janet Maslin, New York Times
- "Audacious, the kind of sweeping virtuoso epic that actually earns overheated book-jacket phrases like 'tour de force!'...Atkinson is a fantastic storyteller... It's all so richly imagined and ingeniously executed that the mystery feels right. Her domestic vignettes and wide-screen portraits of wartime resonate with startling physical and emotional clarity, and even her repetitions find fresh revelations... What Atkinson has mastered: shining a light on how full life is of choices and chance, and how lucky we are to live it."—Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
- "The Blitz segments vibrate with life, as vivid and horrifying as a series of glimpses into a charnel house...The natural exuberance of Atkinson's prose is brought into sharp, precise control. Buried inside Life After Life is the best Blitz novel since Sarah Waters's The Night Watch."—Steve Donoghue, The Washington Post
- "Fascinating... A tour de force that ponders memory and déjà vu-and puts history on a very human scale."—Parade
- "[Atkinson] is nothing if not clever...A fine writer...filling the pages with a liveliness and intelligence...Ursula's quest to 'get it right' gradually becomes less important than Atkinson's talent to create such an entertaining and suspenseful story that tells many versions of the history of the 20th century."—Bob Hoover, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
- "Ambitious...[Atkinson] can be playful and profound, an enjoyable storyteller as well as an artful writer...She gives us a complete picture of an upper-class British family as it moves into the modern era, and in such a way that we are left sifting through the many turns a life can take and contemplating the consequences thereof."—Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News
- "Audacious and darkly mysterious...Atkinson is a master of structure...A sense of dread but also one of hope infuse the novel...Even the canniest reader can't predict what will happen next, so the long novel remains absorbing until its end. It lightly raises questions about the meaning of life and death and identify, fate and chance, and leaves them unanswered to echo in the reader's mind after the final page."—Margaret Quamme, Columbus Dispatch
- "Life After Life is a hypnotic dance of causality and chance, in which Ursula makes genuine progress...[Life After Life] displays...trapeze-artist panache, releasing plotlines into the oblivion of one past life only to retrieve them, to the reader's appreciative gasps, in a later one...It's rich in the gravity and texture of reality... Marvelously vibrant...Atkinson makes every one of Ursula's lives, as well as the lives of those she touches, feel inestimably precious."—Laura Miller, Salon
- "A densely layered, century-sprawling work that is a formidable bid for the brass ring of the U.K.'s prestigious Man Booker Prize. Life After Life is a drama of failures and providential rebirths...High-concept premise...A deft and convincing portrayal of an English family's evolution across two world wars...Marvelous...Not only does she bring characters to life with enviable ease, she has an almost offhand knack for vivid scene-setting ...Her storytelling prowess is on fullest display in a gorgeous and nerve-racking novella-length chapter set during the Blitz ... It's spellbindingly done."—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
- "Delightfully precocious and darkly moody... Revealing and straightforward... Originality is the jumping-off point for this especially unique novel, and readers looking for something fresh should take a chance. Readers already in love with Atkinson's novels, and equally besotted with Jackson Brodie, will be just as pleased with the life - the lives - of Ursula Todd."—Carol Memmott, USA Today
- "Masterful...Atkinson not only invites readers in, she also asks them to give up their preconceptions of what a novel should be, and instead accept what a novel can be... What impresses me about this flip book of nonstop scenarios - in wartime and peacetime - is not only how absorbing they are, but how brave Atkinson is to have written them. After all, there really isn't much recent precedent for a major, serious yet playfully experimental novel with a female character at its center. Good for her to have given us one; we needed it...She opened her novel outward, letting it breathe unrestricted, all the while creating a strong, inviting draft of something that feels remarkably like life."—Meg Wolitzer, NPR.org
- "Gripping and sophisticated...Enthralling...[Atkinson] deftly captures the cruel frailty of life with judicious compassion...No writer alive makes for better company on the page-knowing, funny, and prodigally inventive: Ursula is a magnificent creation, but dozens of finely drawn secondary characters (her bohemian Aunt Izzie alone would make this book worth reading) force her to fight for the spotlight on every page...Unflaggingly curious and unfailingly open-minded, Atkinson is like some great snoop, prowling among life's mysteries, turning the commonplace inside out...Literary and entertaining all at once, Atkinson is a sophisticated artist who also can keep you up well past bedtime, and that double-barreled talent is on display as never before in Life After Life. My first reaction upon finishing it was to imitate the unsinkable Ursula and begin all over again."—Malcolm Jones, The Daily Beast
- "Atkinson has turned a high-concept conceit into an intricately crafted, totally engaging new novel...Atkinson combines the cleverness of metafiction with the warmth and detail of period fiction for an end result that is satisfyingly original."—Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor
- "Atkinson has a knack for puzzle-making...creating a series of narrative fragments that cohere into a breathtaking whole...By the final chapters, it's clear that Ursula is gaining on something much bigger than any of her lives: a true calling. Watching that pursuit is frequently heartbreaking and entirely thrilling."—Katie Arnold-Ratliff, Time
- "Inventive...This ingenious narrative conceit not only illustrates how seemingly small decisions can affect our lives, it also allows us as readers to inhabit a novelist's creative process...Atkinson has crafted a narrative that pushes us to think about our own choices... Some of Ursula's narratives are so compelling, so convincing, that it is hard to imagine her ending up any other way."—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
- "Life After Life is dark and funny and suspenseful and sad all at the same time."—Emily Ecton, NPR (Great Reads of 2013)
- "It is in the depiction of Ursula's loving yet contentious family that Life After Life truly shines...a dazzling, intricate and entertaining novel."—Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle
- "A thoroughly entertaining, periodically moving read, and a wholly unique addition ... Atkinson never so much as flirts with pathos; her ethos and heroine are as unsentimental as the times require."—Eugenia Williamson, Boston Globe
- "Sure to be one of the most talked-about books of the year. Life After Life is a dazzling juggling act...(by all means, read this book)."—Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times
- "You can't put down Life After Life until you finish it, and then I suggest you read it a second time."—Bob Hoover, Dallas Morning News
- "Dazzling...the fantasy behind that reality turns out to be rivetingly complex."—Karen Holt, O, the Oprah Magazine
- "I cannot recommend this book enough. It's nothing short of a genre-bending masterpiece - thoughtful and compelling, convoluted in plot but clear in resolve. If I had many lifetimes, I would make sure to read Life After Life in each."—Kevin Nguyen, Grantland
- On Sale
- Apr 2, 2013
- Page Count
- 544 pages
- Reagan Arthur Books