It was a long time ago now.
And it was yesterday.
I am fascinated with the idea of reincarnation. I think this most likely stems from my habitual midnight debates with myself over the countless things I could have done differently/not at all during the course of the day/week/month/decade. I overthink excessively, and as such the possibility of repeating a lifetime, making different decisions the second or third time round, is exceptionally appealing. The tagline for Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life poses just that question: What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
I’ll start off this review by saying that this was not one of my favourite reads. I struggled to fully immerse myself and I found it a little tedious, as I’ll explain shortly, but it did keep me interested enough to read until the very end. The story begins on the eve of 11 February 1910, the date of Ursula Todd’s birth and an evening you’ll revisit quite a few times during the course of this novel. From here we follow Ursula’s various lifetimes – some short, some quite long, each ending in death and restarting with birth. This is also where things become a little dull; I grew quite tired of having to reread her childhood every few chapters. But, I must add that I liked the way Ursula subconsciously learns from her previous life (and death). These lessons take the shape of gut-instincts, phobias and déjà vu, and they save and redirect Ursula’s life as the novel progresses.
Ursula’s decisions also have a ripple effect on those around her. With each lifetime she is able to save or change the course of someone else’s life. These instances are quite eerie as she’s often in the dark as to why she acts a certain way – but of course, the reader, having been privy to her previous life, does. And this effect is not limited to her immediate circle. From the very first page we know that Ursula’s story will lead towards the Second World War, and during this time there is a not wholly realistic, but thought-provoking, change-the-course-of-history plot arc. I’ll save the details of the outcome so those interested in reading this novel can discover for themselves.
In short, I think this novel is an interesting enough read if you’re hoping to fill a lazy afternoon. In the category of novels on past lives, though, I’d much rather recommend Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – a personal favourite and, I think, a good deal more complex and thrilling.