” ‘Sweet sixteen,’ Hugh said, kissing her affectionately. ‘Happy birthday, little bear. Your future’s all ahead of you.’ Ursula still harbored the feeling that some of her future was also behind her but she had learned not to voice such things.”
Hardcover edition; Reagan Arthur, 2013.
When I was in the middle of reading this, I kept thinking of a quote from the Disney movie Brave: “If you had the chance to change your fate, would you?” Of course you cannot think about this quote without thinking of it in Merida’s Scottish accent. But anyway, in Life After Life, Ursula Todd does have the chance to change her fate. Many times. And not just her own fate. Her “gift” of being born, again and again, every single time that she dies, has the power to affect her own life, those of her family and friends, and perhaps a much, much larger group of people than that. Every time that the “darkness” comes over Ursula and she is reborn, she grows up retaining a bit of what she learned and experienced in her past lives so that in effect she can eventually predict certain events and starts to realize why she might have been given this very unique gift/curse/condition, however you might want to see it.
This book came so highly recommended by one of my best friends so I wanted to love it when I grabbed the audiobook from the library. However, after listening to the first of 12 discs I had this feeling that it wasn’t for me at all and I wouldn’t be able to get into it. I really wanted to give it a chance, though, so I decided to abandon the audio version and get it on my Kindle instead. That was a much better reading experience and I found that the pages flew by so quickly. Atkinson has created a very, very special story here that transcends what we’d normally think of as historical fiction. There are many books dealing with the topic of reincarnation in various ways, and many of those tend to get a bit too spiritual or philosophical, but in Life After Life, I think that the subject is handled in a straightforward and precise manner that draws you in and makes you honestly believe that Ursula’s life (well, her lives) could actually happen.
I am giving Life After Life 4 stars. I loved reading about Ursula’s situation and the self-realization that she develops over time (and time again). Some of the supporting characters were kind of like caricatures reflecting very typical mindsets and habits of the time and place, but in a way that actually worked well towards the story because as Ursula changed in different ways during different lives, they stayed the same. As several of my blogger friends have noted the middle did drag somewhat. I tended to get a little bit lost with just how many times Ursula died and came back; with how many separate story lines during the war I had to keep track of. I honestly was also reading it so, so fast to see how it was all going to be wrapped up, that the sheer speed could have also contributed to my slight confusion, so that’s my fault rather than Ms. Atkinson’s. I am absolutely going to read A God in Ruins which continues the story of Ursula’s brother Teddy. In Life After Life, everyone (except Maurice) loves Teddy, but I actually felt like he wasn’t characterized much beyond the adored younger brother so I am very curious to learn more about what makes him so great.