Yes, this novel is that good. And don’t get me started on why this title was not nominated for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. That’s a complete mystery, especially considering the fact that I read several of this year’s nominees. This novel was more deserving of the nomination than a few of the riddles that I encountered on the Booker list. But I digress; it’s time for me to pen an ode to this magnificent work by Kate Atkinson.
Life After Life follows the lives (yes, lives) of Ursula Todd. First born in 1910, she succumbs to a very early death, and darkness falls. Immediately following, she’s born again. She lives a little longer. Darkness falls. She’s born again…. lives a little longer… I think you get the idea. Believe me, however, when I say that I’m oversimplifying the meaning behind the plot. This novel gave my soul an affectionate squeeze. I adored every poignant word, and cannot overstate the impact that this book offers, if you open yourself to its message.
With each gift of life, Ursula becomes just a little wiser. Just a little more worldly. Just a little more aware. She can’t shake the feeling that she’s been here before. She can’t understand why there are moments when something evil seems to be patiently lurking around a corner, causing her to inexplicably take a different route. The choices she makes affect her life in ways that she can’t even begin to fathom. As her wisdom grows, so too does her longevity. So too, does her overall purpose. Her lives eventually culminate into a breathless crescendo; one that left me both exhilarated and exhausted. I also wanted to start all over again. I now miss the characters terribly.
If I were to share more about the twists and turns of this novel, then I would be denying you the pleasure of discovery. I cannot share how Ursula’s choices change her. I cannot hint at how, after repeated attempts, Ursula is able to see true colors, defend herself, love the right people, and save lives. To be given the opportunity to live over and over until you get it right…. is that a blessing, or a curse? If you were given the chance to do everything again, what would you change? How would your personality grow? Would you stray from the beaten path, not knowing what was ahead?
This book brushes up against glimpses of the afterlife. It touches on a form of reincarnation that will lead you to believe in extraordinary cases of cause and effect. What kept popping into my mind was the Butterfly Effect chaos theory, which purports that a small change in one place can cause significant differences in a later state. For me, that was Life After Life. One tiny change was all it took to shape an entire life. One seemingly minute alteration had the astounding power to affect happiness, social status, and purpose. What could such hindsight do for history? My guess is that it would do marvels, if in fact people were willing to learn from the mistakes of the past. This brilliant book will haunt me for a long time, but in a very good way.
This audiobook was narrated by Fenella Woolgar, and after about 3 minutes of listening, I fully understood why they chose her for the novel. I quickly became just as immersed in her voice as I was in the story. She embodied each character perfectly. With tones of silk, Woolgar breathed life into every crevice of the story. I do hope that I have the opportunity to hear her narrate again soon. She was truly remarkable.
Needless to say, I’m giving 5 heartfelt stars to Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. Please get your copy today. I promise that you will not be disappointed, because you never know if that stubborn “been here before” feeling is déjà vu… or wisdom.