Book Review: Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

This review originally ran in the Friday, April 12th issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

On a snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born blue in the face, strangled by her own umbilical cord, never taking her first breath; on a snowy night in 1910, the local doctor arrives at Mrs. Todd's bedside just in time to save Ursula's life.

In 1930, Ursula Todd walks into a restaurant and shoots Hitler at point-blank range; in 1930, she is wed to an abusive husband in England.

In 1933, Ursula Todd weds a German man and settles in Germany, unable to leave the country after war begins in 1939; in 1940, she is having an affair with a British government official in London.

Kate Atkinson's Life After Life is the story of Ursula Todd's many, many lives, all starting in the same place, at the same time, but varying by degrees. She lives through the Second World War again and again: as a friend of Hitler's mistress, as a member of London's air raid patrol, as a government worker. She loses siblings, parents, friends, lovers. She sees families torn apart, city blocks destroyed, "the crushed fragments of lives, never to be whole again."

It is only natural, then, that Ursula begins to question her ability to change the past--and therefore the future. Atkinson details the implications of a life lived over and over again: Are our fates locked in, or do we have the power to change them?

The success of Life After Life lies in Atkinson's ability to parse these cerebral questions of life and philosophy without ever losing sight of Ursula's story--or stories. The result is stunning, emotional, at times funny--and always downright unforgettable. One of my favorites of 2013 so far.


Life After Life | Kate Atkinson | Reagan Arthur | Hardcover | 544 pages | April 2013 | Buy from an independent near you


  1. Great review - I'm really intrigued by this book!

    1. Thanks, Greg! I really loved it. Definitely will be picking up more of Atkinson's backlist after reading this one.

  2. This is a great review! I loved this title so much!! I actually pre-ordered a copy right after I finished my digital ARC. I hear it's very different from anything Atkinson's ever written before. She's a new author to me, but I'm really looking forward to getting into more of her work.

  3. I loved this one. So awesome--made me want to read everything else on her backlist.

  4. yeah, nice review! this makes me want to read something - I've been having trouble with my attention span these past few weeks. I'm going to look for it now :)

  5. I've read her book Case Histories. I loved that one, so I'll probably be grabbing this one as soon as I can.

  6. I can't wait to read this!! I'm number 40 on my library wishlist, so I guess I'll get to it eventually :/

  7. I'm curious about this -- I love it when an author picks a really ballsy concept as the basis for a plot.


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