Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is the story of Ursula Todd who has the ability to rewind mistakes in her life. I actually found this quite a difficult book to review. There was a lot I liked about it, but a lot that really irritated me, too. I was really torn about what rating to give it.
There are minor spoilers in here, so I will hide them after the cut.
What I liked
The opening. The book opens with a really kick-ass midpoint section in Ursula’s life before jumping back to her birth. The starting scene is with Ursula pursuing that standard trope of time travel – what if we killed Hitler? This sets up a whole lot of questions for the rest of the story; will she succeed? How did she know about his future? Is this a time travel tale?
Character development. I really enjoyed the way Ursula’s character was portrayed depending on where she was in “fixing” her life. It was very well written from this aspect. I liked how she sometimes used her gift to make her own life better and sometimes also that of others. It was interesting that
The social history. The tale takes place between 1910 and generally 1947, which was a period of great change in British society. I really enjoyed seeing this period through Ursula’s eyes, and felt the book reflected the social history and changing attitudes of the period very well. It was also very interesting to see a similar period in Germany, as part of the book takes place there too.
The fixes. I liked that some of the fixes took a couple of attempts to make right. This was most obvious in the influenza section which I very much enjoyed. I couldn’t help smirking when Ursula kneed her potential rapist in the groin before he could do anything. I also liked that sometimes, Ursula messed up things previously fixed when trying to sort something else.
What I didn’t like
Inconsistency of Ursula’s gift. Ursula’s gift is never clearly explained, which is fair enough. However, what I did have a major problem with was that it was inconsistent whether Ursula had an awareness of it or not. I mean, is Ursula consciously changing things – as it seemed to be implied when she goes for Hitler, or the influenza episode – yet how could a newborn influence her own fate or others’ actions? But the rest of the book doesn’t seem to imply that there is another force looking out for her.
Frequent foreign language and literary references. Don’t get me wrong; in many cases I enjoy these. However in Life After Life they were everywhere. I get it; Atkinson is a smart, well-read writer. However the number of them felt more like rubbing that in the reader’s face than being used to enhance the story or writing style.
All in all, I did enjoy Life After Life even if it did irritate me at some points. I’m happy I borrowed it from the library rather than investing in it myself. I gave it three and a half stars out of five.