Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Posted April 26, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 18 Comments

Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonTitle: Life After Life (Goodreads)
Author: Kate Atkinson
Published: Knopf Doubleday, 2013
Pages: 480
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

Ursula Todd is born in a snowstorm in England in 1910 but dies before she can take her first breath. During that same snowstorm she was born again and lives to tell the tale; again and again. Life after Life tells the story of Ursula’s lives, as with each new life she makes small changes that send her on a completely different path.

I feel like I’m the only person on the planet that thought this book was overhyped and over rated. Sure Kate Atkinson has this trippy ability to create this bleak world while still managing to add some wit and compassion but it wasn’t the writing that was at fault. The premise of the book makes it sound really good but let’s face it; it is just Groundhog Day in disguise.  The book is clever, but it tries too hard to be clever and it didn’t really turn out the way it should have; for me anyway. This book is getting so many rave reviews, I feel like I am a black sheep just telling people it did not work.

As I said before, there is nothing wrong with the writing; Kate Atkinson has created this lyrical narrative and I did find myself being swept away in the words. I even felt like at times I was reading this book without thinking about what was happening; a few times I had to stop and process before continuing. I almost found myself not noticing a death and Ursula’s life starting again and that could have got me completely lost. I did feel like Kate Atkinson did however overdo the twists and it turned out to be a roundabout way to retell the same story over and over again with different outcomes. This could have worked; and it sounds like it worked for many people but I sadly wasn’t one of them.

I wonder if Kate Atkinson was trying something different and experimental where she could play with the character’s death and life, explore the concept of life’s choices and their consequences but because there were no real penalty to Ursula’s life I wonder if it really worked? Do you ever have déjà vu? (I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen) Life after Life just seems to repeat the same scenes, some readers might gain a sense of familiarity and for me it just felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Life after Life is the kind of book you should probably read in a real cold climate; the snowy, dark and sometimes bleakness of the novel seems to call for it. Maybe read snuggled up on a dark winters night and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today (It’s coooold out there every day. What is this, Miami Beach?).  It is just the book that would work better in the cold; though it is never cold here in Townsville, maybe that’s why it didn’t work for me.

I really wanted to enjoy this book; I will try another Kate Atkinson novel because I really think she has a great style. Just so happened Life after Life was not for me and I know people loved this book and will probably complain about this review but at least it was just an excuse to put some Groundhog Day quotes into something. This book has had so many positive reviews so maybe it is just me, if the book sounds like something you’d like then don’t let this review stop you, is it too early for flapjacks?

18 responses to “Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

  1. I was very interested to read that you didn’t like this book. I had a bit of a hissy fit the other week on twitter about overhyped books and me being the bl%^dy sheep and following the crowd. I recently abandoned The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared. So many wonderful reviews of it and it’s translated fiction. So many good things about it but I just couldn’t get into it.

    I question how I’ve been choosing my books. The ‘I want to be able to talk with other bloggers about current books’ versus ‘The books I’ve always wanted to read’. Unfortunately, there is a very small intersection of the two groups. I have resigned to the fact that there I have only one (short) life and so I need to be very fussy about the books I choose to read.

    • I remember that tweet. I’m with you, I like to be communicate with other bloggers but I also want to be a little different as well, I’ve put off publishing reviews if someone else recently had done so. The book has been on my radar and thought “Maybe someday” but then it become my bookclub pick for May so I had to read it. I’m ready to play the bad guy at that meeting 🙂

  2. Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

    I’m glad that you think differently and are willing to say so. I loved Life After Life but It would be incredibly boring if we all liked the same thing!

  3. i’m interested to hear how other people in the book club liked this book. Wonder if anyone there will agree with you tonight.

  4. Violet

    I’m with Sonia. I used to try and read what other people were reading so I’d have something to discuss, but it was just too frustrating and a waste of my time. Life is too short. We need to follow our own reading bliss. I find that the more a contemporary novel is hyped, the less likely it is I’ll get past page five. Besides, I don’t believe in reincarnation, except for the concept of moment-to-moment rebirth while we’re still alive, and I don’t think anyone ever gets their life “right”: we all just muddle along doing the best we can.

    • I like some contemporary fiction but I don’t normally try and follow crowds too much. there are so many decent books out there to read. Problem is with ARCs it sometimes feel like we are all following the same trend and that is off putting at times

  5. Gerith Silversword

    I definitely wouldn’t complain over that kind of review and even though I am one who really, really loved the book (I have a review up as well on my blog), it is so refreshing to read a different opinion!

    Let me just say that I can see where you are coming from and I think a lot of it boils down to personal preferences and the springboard for each reader. I am usually a bit of a “whiner” (less fancy word for being overly critical towards hype-books at times), but with Life After Life, I just allowed myself to like it. The thing is, even though the idea might be used before (and of course Groundhog Day pops to mind at once, as well as a few others), is there anything really new in the world? Most of the stories are bound to be more or less retellings of some things already said by someone in history, and that is the base from which I observed this book. Leaving the ideas aside, I felt the writing was really elegant and smooth, and I am curious to try out some more Atkinson in future (rather sooner than later).

  6. Tasha

    I didn’t like “Life After Life” either. Her four Jackson Brodie novels are superb. If you don’t like the first of them, “Case Histories”, then you will probably not like anything she has written. I also enjoyed her first novel “Behind The Scenes At The Museum”. “Emotionally Weird” was (how can I say this?) quite awful. “Human Croquet” was a crazy story, but I really liked her poetic style.

  7. I knew I shouldn’t pick up this book…all that hype…but I couldn’t help myself. I wish I would have! I absolutely agree, the writing was stellar, but the plot was a little forced. It was absolutely the wrong thing to read with a sick child in the house. I’m halfway through and just don’t know if I can finish, the bleakness is overwhelming.

  8. Baron Destructo

    Couldn’t agree with you more. It’s well-written but the structural conceit, that has been lauded for its inventiveness, isn’t new. Every SF show has done its Groundhog Day episode. Also, I keep bringing this up but no one has been able to offer me an explanation for the inexplicable final scene. How is our heroine still alive in that alternate timeline when she was undoubtedly killed in bringing it about?

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