Book Review: Kate Atkinson's Life After Life a Lesson in Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Book Review: Kate Atkinson's Life After Life a Lesson in Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Talk about living with regret.

Kate Atkinson takes her inventive writing to the next level with Life After Life—a formidable, engaging take of a young woman, born over and over and over in February of 1910. Ursula Todd is on a mission—and even she isn't quite privy to it. With each and every life, she faces death. Sometimes gruesome, always sad, Ursula is "reborn" into the same life with a residue of the knowledge she learned from the previous one—which helps her escape her previous fate.

Life After Life isn't a light read—you need to pay attention to the details, as characters, places, dates and times all link to one another throughout Ursula's different lives. And the locale itself isn't the sunniest, either—we're talking World War I and II in England. But certainly, it's compelling. You'll find yourself nervous for Ursula, rooting for her to make it a bit further with each life, and wondering if she'll ever have a happy ending. And that, I'm not telling.

The story is also an interesting character study of women's roles in a pre-feminist era. Ursula's Aunt Izzie is a wild child, a free spirit, who draws the ire of Ursula's mother, Sylvie—a woman committed to her children, her family and the age-old ideal that her place is really in the home. Ursula's variety of lives have her living on her own, working full time in the War Department, teaching, nanny-ing, playing the part of the dutiful wife and even taking a married lover.

Of course, the path the book takes is ripe for book club discussion, the most obvious question being this—if you had some knowledge of how your life was going to work out; or if you had access to the Wayback Machine, would it affect your decision making today?

Would you eat what you ate when you were pregnant? Would you even get pregnant? Would you even date the guy that got you pregnant?

Would you choose the college you went to, or go with another choice? Take a different elective in high school? Ditch the after-school job for something radically different?

Would you be more or less involved in your kids' lives? Would you sacrifice as much as you have for them? More? Less?

Reading this, you'd think that just one different decision changes everything. And it does. But not always for the better. Or the greater good. This novel? Definitely one that's going to roll over and over and over in your mind.


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