Life After Life

life-after-lifeI just finished Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and now I’m sitting here saying, “So what? What was the point of that?” You’re forewarned: this contains a lot of spoilers.

Life After Life follows the many lives of Ursula Todd, and when I say “many” I mean many. Does she die 30 times? 40? Whatever the number, it’s a lot, and each time she dies she’s reborn on the same date (in February of 1910), to the same woman, who is married to the same man, who lives in the same house, with the same employees, and the same siblings. Little things change with each life she has, but she doesn’t really remember her past lives, though every now and then she gets an inkling that she shouldn’t do something, which of course is from a past life when something bad happened in that same situation. Very slowly she starts remembering things, but she’s not sure why she remembers them, and it’s not until the end of the book she realizes she can relive her life and potentially change things and she takes advantage of that.

But so what, because she’s always reborn. Even in the end, with the last death we see, she is again reborn in the same year with the same mother, etc. So what’s the big deal if she finally figures out that she can die and be reborn if nothing of consequence will ever happen with that?

But starting at the beginning of the book it’s set up to make us think that something of consequence will happen. The first couple pages of the book we see a glimpse of one of her lives, when she’s in her 30s, and she’s shooting Adolf Hitler. She instantly gets shot and dies and then the book really begins with the first birth we’re allowed to see. So the whole time I’m waiting for this Adolf Hitler moment to appear, and maybe this book will then turn into some sort of alternate history, but that’s not what we get here. When we finally get to the Adolf Hitler moment, 500 pages in and 40some lives later, the scene plays out in the exact way it does at the beginning of the book, but the next scene shows her being reborn. So basically the end of the book is exactly like the beginning of the book and I had to read 500 pages of other crap to get there.

I feel completely misled. There was no point here. There was really no overall plot. Each life she lives has a little plot you follow, but once that life is done the next begins, sometimes with a lot of repetition, but besides these little plots, what is the overall plot of this story? There isn’t one. Nothing this woman does will actually change anything in her world because she always begins again.

I am so annoyed that I read this whole thing expecting to find something and coming up empty. The sad thing is that I loved the beginning of this book. It is told interestingly, and it’s written well, but the longer she went on reliving lives, the more impatient I began to get. I kept waiting for rising action leading up to the Hitler incident, but it didn’t happen. When she finally realizes she can live again and kill him, she just does. There’s no looming action, it happens very quickly and then she’s born again. Boring. Utterly useless waste of my time.

I'm an avid reader and librarian in the Twin Cities who loves to read almost everything but mysteries. If someone gets killed in the first chapter and a detective has to figure out who did it, that's not for me. My recent favorite obsessions are post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. If you have any suggestions, shout them out.

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