Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Chance of Many Lifetimes

"No point in thinking...
you just have to get on with life.
We only have one after all,
we should try and do our best.
We can never get it right, but we must try."
--Kate Atkinson, Life After Life

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books, 529 pages
Publication Date: April 2nd, 2013
Source: Borrowed from Library

Goodreads Description

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, 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. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.

My Thoughts

This review is not going to be easy to write. This book is...magical. There are no witches or vampires or wizards or actual magic a la Harry Potter but that does not take away the absolute magical qualities that this book has. This book breathes. It feels alive. Writing this review is hard because I believe that this book will read differently to every single person that picks it up and opens up its pages. It will mean something different to everyone. Is that not magic?

The plot of this book is hard to describe outside of what the synopsis says. Ursula Todd lives an infinite amount of lives and dies an equally amount of times. Every time the darkness falls she is reborn. Every time she is reborn she gets a chance at redemption; another chance to make a different choice and lead a very different life. Some constants remain the same but the journey she takes is equally different, enthralling, and usually heartbreaking all at the same time. I just...can't describe how this book works, you must read it. I'll touch briefly on the characters. The short of it is I loved them all. Ursula was a little on the dull side to be honest. It's not a bad thing, I don't know how to describe it. Her personality is not one that is super emotional. She is very direct and objective in her emotions. There we go, that's a good way to put it. But you feel with her. She may not be overtly showy in her feelings but the situations she goes through have your heart breaking at times. The other characters that are a main focus are her sister Pamela--love her, very smart, very objective in her advice, she is just great; older brother Maurice--the constant douche of the family, the parent's commentary on his is very hilarious; younger brother Teddy--the favorite of the family and mine as well, very lovable and kind and just adorable. We have a bunch of periphery characters that are always there but each life bring a new light to them or spotlights them in a different way. I found this brilliant. A character we hear about in passing in one life becomes a heavy focus in the next.

Alright, now I'm gonna get a little philosophical for a moment because what I took away and what I was able to interpret from the book was what I loved most. This aspect of the novel is the easiest to talk about. This book oozes the infinite possibilities of choice. Each and every day we make choices and how those choices affect us have consequences to numerous different people without us even realizing it. It is MIND BOGGLING to think about life this way. The different lives Ursula leads based on her choices vary from...actually I can't even tell you the different variations as to not ruin any surprise in seeing where Ursula ends up next. I loved this. It was almost like a choose-your-own-adventure book. That choice doesn't work out and you end up dead...well let's just start over and try again. It's just...ridiculous how many different paths our lives could lead us to based on simple decisions we make every day. We are the masters of our own destiny but the unknown quality that is the future is both beautiful and haunting. This will blow your mind. Honestly. 

The power of choice is so...daunting. It both makes me want to seize the day and hide in a corner of my house the rest of my life. But our own choices don't only affect ourselves, like I said earlier, they affect other people. The same respect can be paid in reverse. The choices others make obviously affect us as well. Each time Ursula is reborn, the event of her birth is told from a different person's perspective and each time there is a difference in the details that catapults Ursula onto a different path entirely. I like how this story also shows us how much other people affect our lives as well. We are not the only cogs in our wheel of life. 

I loved this book. I don't think it is a book for everyone. There are a couple of slow spots but it sets up for so much more later on that you don't even realize. I think this book will be different for every single person that reads it. And I think this is a book that needs to be read more than once to truly appreciate all the details in the writing. Kate Atkinson is a witch of words and the spell she leaves will leave you scratching your head and wanting more. You feel involved in Ursula's story, like a piece of you is at stake as well. The whole concept of this book is exceptionally unique and creative.

Should You Read This? Yes. While I don't think this book is for everyone, I do think that everyone needs to give this a shot. I hope most people end up loving it because I personally, couldn't get enough of where Ursula's story would lead next.


  1. I adored this book, it ended up (quite possibly) being one of my most favorite reads of the year. Will definitely be looking into more works from Atkinson. Lovely review!

    Bonnie @ Sweet Tidbits

  2. I'm about half way through this at the moment and I'm already planning when I can re-read it to fully appreciate all the little intricacies. I've always been a big fan of Atkinson but I think she has really surpassed herself on this one. I do love a book that makes me think!

  3. I don't usually rate structure as important, but in this case, the innovative structure is stunning. It compels a reader to think about the path not taken. The characters, especially the main character, are fascinating. The narrative of the German Blitz on London is historical fiction at its finest-- I learned the facts in history, but this fiction felt real.
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