Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Life After Life asks: What if we could keep reliving the same life, making fresh choices at each of the turning points where our previous choices ended in disaster? The stakes are not small, even in a life like Ursula's that seems very ordinary: in the first, short chapter, she has the opportunity to assassinate Hitler, so readers know that at least one of the trajectories of her life will take her to that moment. Then we are in the semirural English home where she dies at birth on the snowy day of February 11, 1910, strangled by her umbilical cord. It's a testament to Atkinson's writing ability and the clever structure of this unusual story that no suspense is lost by bringing readers repeatedly back to Ursula's birth to show the different circumstances and choices that save her life and later end it prematurely. On the contrary, Ursula is such an engaging child and woman that the suspense is all the stronger. We want to find out what she does with these second chances, prompted by subconscious dread and a sense of deja vu. They don't always work out.
The question at the novel's heart is both larger and more personal than it looks. We all have regrets of one kind or another when we look backward, whether for reckless acts that brought disaster or for conventional choices that led to quiet desperation. Would different choices have made us happier? We wonder about chance meetings - or missed meetings - that changed our lives: what if we had met a certain person much earlier in life, much later in life, or not at all? What if someone had assassinated Hitler? Would the Holocaust and World War II have been averted? Atkinson is too good a writer to supply easy answers. Life After Life is a captivating, thought-provoking novel that will linger long in readers' memories. (2013, 529 pages)More about Life After Life at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository