Best of 2013: Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
LIFE AFTER LIFE, by Kate Atkinson. Reagan Arthur, 529 pp. April 2013
There was no question that Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life would make it onto my Top 10 list this year. This was one of those books that had quite a bit of buzz before its release. Granted it was first released in the United Kingdom, but it was getting such a good response over there that after reading about it on Twitter I definitely wanted to get my hands on a copy.
Ursula Todd is born and dies several times throughout this book. Some lives only last a few minutes, some last many years. And as her lives progress, we see how her experiences change as a result of other moments or decision she made previously. In one life she may have feelings for a certain boy and she may allow him to kiss her, but in another life she may not. In each of these situations, other parts of her life differ based on her decision to kiss him. We see how this small instance affects not only her future but the woman she becomes.
Life After Life contains many elements of an epic, though it is written in a way that is accessible to any reader. I loved the way that we are able to view this world Atkinson has created from the outside in. We are able to see Ursula’s similarities and differences as she continues to die and be reborn. But she does not necessarily have any memory of past lives. She only understands the life she is currently living.
I have to say, however, that I loved the darkness of this book the most. It’s not a “dark” book, but I really appreciated that Atkinson did not shy away from the shadows. She balances the joys and sorrows of life well, and she does so in a way that strengthens the novel and deepens Ursula as a character.
For example, the outside scene of her first birth may look idyllic: A snowy night in 1910, an English banker and his wife welcoming a daughter into the world. But the tables turn: this life only lasts a few moments, as Ursula dies before she can take a breath.
The beauty of this novel is in the shading Atkinson gives to the story and to the memorable Ursula. Atkinson takes the reader through a unique and certainly wondrous journey, one that causes us to wonder how our own experiences and decisions–both good and bad, big and small–affect who we will become and what our futures contain.