Life After Life

Kate Atkinson
Life After Life  Cover

Life After Life


In the summer of his second year my nephew, came to visit his Aunt Badseed and spend a few days with her. Now my house was not baby-proofed at the time, and so I had my hands full with him. I only turned my head for a minute, and when I looked back he had his head in the under-sink counter and was drinking from the bleach bottle. Thankfully he was not able to get the child-proof top of the bottle. But I was so upset that I could not stop crying thinking about what might have been. What if the lid had not been secure on the bottle? What if he had grabbed one of the equally hazardous, and much less securely sealed bottles that were also under the sink? The entire time I was reading Life After Life I kept running that episode over and over in my mind; that event and Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken."

Because that is what this novel is about. The main character Ursula, can relive her life. She seems to have some recollection of these past lives in the forms of feelings and vague episodes of Deja vu. But is this a blessing or a curse? When the book started, I was firm in my belief that it was a blessing and a wonderful gift, by the end of the novel, I was unsure. Ursula seemed to suffer so much more hardship, and pain then she experienced moments of happiness. Plus, the end of the book hints that her Mother may be experiencing the same phenomena, and has repeated it numerous times. Her "Practice makes perfect." statement when she finds the scissors is a fairly strong indication of this. Wouldn't repeating life over and over, eventually drive one mad? I think it might make me mad.

The concept of "time-travel" is an old one, and the idea of righting the wrongs in history, just as old. Who can forget the scene from the movie "The Dead Zone" when Johnny asks his doctor if he could travel in the past, would he kill Hitler? But not since "Quantum Leap" have I experienced so much jumping back and forth in time. Don't get me wrong I loved this book. Even though when a reader examines it, there is overlap with other works, this story felt fresh and new, but it was exhausting to read and keep track of. That works in the books favor. The reader can't help but experience the same sense of Deja vu, and along with this there was an underlying sense of disconcertedness as to what the character had actually experienced in this life and what they were remembering from a past life. It only got worse as the book went on. I loved it!!! I was on the edge of my seat for the entire read, and after every death, I would fall back exhausted; steeling myself with breathless anticipation for what she would experience in the next life.

This not an easy read, but well worth the effort.

And for all you type A, OCD types out there: Do not try and create a flow chart tracking what Ursula's knew, and when she knew it in her many lives, just sit back and enjoy the glorious confusion!