Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson
3 stars - uneven
ALR Green - some dogs come and go in minor roles
On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways.
Things started out pretty well. Ursula is born, she dies, she is born again, she lives, for a bit, then she dies, then she is born again, lives a little longer, etc. That was all very cool. In fact the first half of the book was great. We see Ursula get further along in life every time. Her ability to survive is hinged on the tiniest of decisions or, sometimes, a quirk of fate. I liked that. The reader gets to ponder how the smallest breath of wind can somehow alter the path of life in significant ways. Change one thing and everything changes.
As the author keeps rewinding Ursula's history, we get to see both the richness and arbitrariness of life. She is born in 1910 which means that as her story progresses, World War II breaks out and viewing the war from all sorts of angles was an interesting exercise.
Sadly, Ms. Atkinson loses the rhythm of the story somewhere after the midpoint. The chapters between life and death increase in length until the book completely bogs down in a 100 page chapter that abandons the original concept. I was plunged into a less compelling story about Ursula's doings in London during the height of the war. No more dying, just living.
Too bad. Still, three stars because I think it's worth a read. That said, watch out for the ending. Of all the ways the book could have ended, I would have never guessed the ending Ms. Atkinson selected and it was disappointing.