I have to be honest, when I first got this through the letterbox and read the synopsis on the back, my heart sank. I’ve always been confused by time travel, and it tends to make a story very disjointed so I try and avoid it! However, I trudged on; and I’m glad I did.
Kate Atkinson’s latest book Life after life follows Ursula and her family through both World Wars. Born in 1911, Ursula has the ability to re-do her life, and every time she dies she is propelled back to being born again, with minimal memories of what took place in her previous ‘lives’. It sounds confusing, but Kate Atkinson writes beautifully, meaning that each life and scenario Ursula finds herself in is clear to follow. As a reader, you learn along with Ursula what her power is which makes it easy to keep reading!
In each of her lives Ursula meets people who sometimes crop up again, but in a different relationship. Her family and home at ‘Fox Corner’ are always there, and you get to know each character really well despite the hardships they face during the Wars. Her brothers in particular have very different personalities, and you want to urge Ursula on to uncover what her powers are so she can alter the course of history. We do see her save several people from death and she even saves herself from rape. In one of her lives Ursula even meets Hitler and becomes friends with his lover, Eva Braun, at which stage I found myself nearly yelling in public at her ‘inclinations’ that something wasn’t right!
Whilst it is beautifully written and so descriptive, I felt the second half of the book fell flat. It takes Ursula far longer to understand what is going on in her life than expected and certain scenarios in her lives kept coming up again and again that remained unchanged, which makes for very tedious reading. She finally remembers parts of her old lives towards the end and decides to dramatically alter the course of history (I won’t give anything away), but she then dies and wakes up being born again and so undoes it all! I found myself scratching my head as I have often done with time travelling books, but I was particularly disappointed with Life after life as it started out so promisingly.
I would recommend this book if you’re looking to read something a little different, as the jumping between time periods is really interesting and not as hard to follow as you would think. I certainly enjoyed reading it; I would just urge caution in hoping for a big change or revelation at the end!