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Life After Life (Todd #1)

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  157,724 Ratings  ·  20,739 Reviews
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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 w
Hardcover, 531 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by Reagan Arthur Books (first published March 14th 2013)
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Lucy Your writing style and punctuation give an indication that the book may simply be too intelligent for you.
Ksboydie Hi Anne, we were just discussing this at book club last week. I got this chill when I read one of the last chapters and the author seemed to suggest…moreHi Anne, we were just discussing this at book club last week. I got this chill when I read one of the last chapters and the author seemed to suggest that Sylvie has the same ability as Ursula does to live her life over. Re-read the last description of Ursula's birth - Sylvie is prepared for the fact that Ursula will have the cord tied around her neck with her surgical scissors. The last line of that chapter is 'Practice makes perfect.' For this reason I feel that Sylvie could have been leading one of her alternate lives when Ursula saw her. Just a hypothosis because Atkinson doesn't explore this in any depth.(less)

Community Reviews

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What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

Ursula Todd is born in a snowstorm in England in 1910 but dies before she can take her first breath. During that same snowstorm she was born again and lives to tell the tale; again and again. Life after Life tells the story of Ursula’s lives, as with each new life she makes small changes that send her on a completely different path.

I feel like I’m the only person on the planet that thought this book was
Banafsheh Serov
I wanted to like this book. I wish I could enjoy it. I bought it with such enthusiasm, and couldn't wait to start reading it. But alas, I sensed almost at the very start that it wasn't going to be a happy relationship - a point confirmed by mid-way through the book.

The length, the repetitive scenes, the incredible number of times Ursula dies and is reborn, are all tedious and terrible torment to get through. 2/3rds in, I found myself offended for having my time wasted. Surely Atkinson could show

kate atkinson has written a lovely, accordion-fold of a novel here.

this is not a jackson brodie novel, which are always much better than your typical detective novels, (even though i haven't read the last one yet - merp), but this one is just so much more ambitious in scope and style than even those gems.

it is sublime.

at its most simplistic, it is about ursula, a character who will be born and die all in the first two pages. (excluding what i am considering to be a prologue) and then again. and
Paul Bryant
Dec 26, 2013 Paul Bryant rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels

Paul Bryant had really only just started driving back home, was still trying with his left hand to jam the seat belt buckle into its lock, and – multitasking like mad - he was thinking about how to review Life After Life, and probably getting too caught up in the various amusing ways it could be done, so that he simply didn’t notice the car poking far too far out of the side street. When finally he did, he had to swerve like crazy, right into the oncoming traffic. What with his seat

Ursula Todd is born in the midst of a blizzard in 1910, not once, but many times, during the course of her life - living only to die and be born again, repeatedly, traveling many paths until she lives the life she was meant to live.

Kate Atkinson's writing is superb, and lyrical enough that it carried me through to the end of this book. The plot, however, left me floundering for weeks, trying desperately to claw my way to the end of this depressing tale. While the premise - reincarnation and dest
John Herbert
Oh dear dear dear dear dear!
Obviously I'm on another planet to all the other reviewers here, but try as I might, I simply had to give up on page 265...and call it a day.

The concept of constant re-births and lives was a good one but sadly, for me,the incidents throughout were so tame and tepid, and the characters that popped into Ursula's lives were so boring, I'm afraid the whole thing was like watching paint dry.

Remember that feeling of rushing to get back to a book to read what happens next? T

I'm pretty sure the idea of being forced to live my life over and over again is something plucked from my worst nightmares, but who among us hasn't been at least tempted to dream of it occasionally with a wistful sigh. Please, please, please, just one more chance to live the best moments again and when necessary, to make different choices? But I would imagine if any of us were actually tasked to unravel all the "right" and "wrong" choices from our life and to relive the bad with the good, we'd g
Mar 08, 2013 Anne rated it really liked it
So much great writing and characterization. Such an interesting premise and structure. Wonderful use of humor and irony (thank you, Teresa) throughout. Remarkable depictions of The Blitz. I want to give this book 5 stars. But I can't. A bit of editing would have helped. but that's a quibble. It's very difficult to go back over the same territory over and over again and keep it interesting. Atkinson did this amazingly well, tho there were moments of, "oh not this again." The real blooper for me w ...more
Apr 24, 2013 Melissa rated it really liked it
This book is so painfully fantastic, I’m going to kind of ignore the fact that it stops making sense at the end. Is there a word that simultaneously means achingly lovely & frustratingly confusing? Ursula Todd is born in 1910 with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck & dies without ever drawing breath. Ursula Todd is born in 1910 with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. The doctor cuts the cord & Ursula grows to age five, when she drowns in the ocean on holiday. Ursula ...more
Mar 05, 2014 Steve rated it it was amazing
Chances are you’ve already heard about the device Atkinson used to tell this remarkable story. It was February of 1910 when baby Ursula died at birth, but she was granted a narrative do-over. Next time the doctor made it through the snowstorm to sever the umbilical cord that was strangling her. She also got another chance after tumbling from the roof trying to reach a doll her malignant older brother had thrown there. Similar life after death sequences played out after a seaside drowning, the Sp ...more
Dec 06, 2012 Melissa rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013, wwii
I'm embarrassed to say I didn't really understand this book. I'm a huge Kate Atkinson fan and I think she's one of the most creative writers I've ever read. And I loved the idea of this book: Ursula is born, dies, and is born again, living different -sometimes very different - versions of her life over and over again. One of my problems is that there didn't seem to be any "rules" like there usually are in books about time travel and other magical occurrences. Sometime Ursula seems to remember th ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
The snake devouring its tail is an ancient symbol of wholeness, infinity, renewal, and eternal return. It symbolizes the cyclic nature of the universe, creation out of destruction, life after death. Likewise, the famous Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, advanced the concept of the Shadow self, the parts of your self that are hidden from society. The process of becoming whole, psychically, is to integrate the unconscious (Shadow) and conscious selves, through deep meditation, dreams, or long journey ...more
Jul 13, 2016 Fabian rated it really liked it
What I expected to be Borgesian, absolutely meta, actually turned out a tad gimmicky and, no joke, choose-your-own-adventure-like. But no problem. It has a huge heart & employs a super witty use of parentheticals, of asides. It is optimistic in the face of oblivion. W.W.II. And, even though I know I insult discerning readers when I say that this is like Ian McEwan's Atonement, Redux; but... this novel is Atonement Redux.
May 29, 2013 Jason rated it it was ok
I’m rating this book two stars only on a technicality…which is that technically speaking, this book sucks.

Ursula Todd is an English-born nobody. Born into a large wealthy family, there isn’t a whole lot about her that stands out. She shares a closeness with one or two of her siblings, but overall she has a pretty meek personality and remains largely invisible most of her life—with the caveat that “most of her life” in Ursula’s case actually means “most of her lives” because this bitch keeps on d
Emily May
Sep 17, 2013 Emily May rated it really liked it
Recommended to Emily May by: Tatiana
“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?”

Life After Life is a novel I probably wouldn't have chosen for myself. And how sad it is to think that I might have passed this novel over and never known these characters and relationships.

It often seems like I am the only person in the world who hasn't watched Downton Abbey (definitely the only Brit who hasn't) but the favourable comparisons I keep seeing between the show and th
Mar 06, 2013 Stephanie rated it it was amazing
“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?”

Would it?

I believe everyone would love a chance to go back and change things in their past. Correct mistakes in order to change their life or their loved ones lives for the better. But changing one thing may only lead to a new problem……then you have to go back, change the first mistake, then the second one, and so on. I don’t know about you, but this sounds exhausting to me.

Ursula g
Will Byrnes
Apr 02, 2014 Will Byrnes rated it it was amazing
“Don’t you wonder sometimes,” Ursula said. “If just one small thing had been changed, in the past, I mean. If Hitler had died at birth, or if someone had kidnapped him as a baby and brought him up in---I don’t know, say, a Quaker household—surely things would be different.”
Kate Atkinson, author of eight previous novels, including four Jackson Brodie crime books, has come up with a nifty notion for a story. Kill off your heroine, early and often, while offering a look at the history of England
Apr 27, 2013 Maciek rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Maciek by: All the ads and enthusiastic reviews
Bollocks! (?)

I struggled to find a word which would describe my reaction to Life After Life - Kate Atkinson's latest novel, released to considerable hype - and I came up with this. It's no perfect but then my reaction is not perfectly uniform as well; one can't accuse ms. Atkinson of being a hack and phoning her book in, not having an interesting enough idea or even of being a poor writer. She writes well, her concept is interesting and her writing flows easily and doesn't obstruct the storyline
Feb 06, 2017 Sam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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.”

While I can understand the mixed reaction, and wouldn't call it a book for everyone, Life After Life is a beautifully written, acutely English, slow-burner of a novel, a beautiful piece of family drama and comedy, and a fantastic work of historical fiction. It's wrapped in a high-concept conceit of our protagonist Ursula's continual b
Jun 03, 2013 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013-reads
This is one of those books that causes a book hangover. I can't easily go onto the next book (and I have three other holds in from the library at the same time so this presents a problem) because I can't stop thinking about Life After Life. In fact, I couldn't sleep last night for thinking of the book and finally needed to read under the covers for over an hour in the middle of the night before I could sleep.
I imagine I'm not alone in letting my mind wander on flights of fancy in the land of "w
"'From a more scientific point of view,’ he said, ‘perhaps the part of your brain responsible for memory has a little flaw, a neurological problem that leads you to think that you are repeating experiences. As if something had got stuck.’ She wasn’t really dying and being reborn, he said, she just thought she was. Ursula couldn’t see what the difference was. Was she stuck? And if so, where?""

"Sylvie sighed. ‘You do have a very vivid imagination, Ursula.’" Ursula may have a vivid imagination, b
Jan 01, 2016 Maxwell rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, 2016
What if you could go back and kill Hitler? I think that's a question many people have asked themselves in their lives. It's one of the biggest "what ifs" of the last century. And in this novel, it was the plot point I was most in denial about.

I was fearful that such a question as the premise of a novel--as the opening scene shows our main character, Ursula Todd, shooting Hitler--would be gimmicky. But we are immediately transported back to 1910 when Ursula is born on a cold snowy night. And die
“There is a fine line between living and dying,” a character observes in Kate Atkinson’s new novel. And it does certainly seem to be the case here, in the midst of two world wars, during the Great Influenza, at the beginning of the twentieth century in Britain. Characters come close to death, and some do not escape it: alternate histories are woven together until we are not really sure what is true. And this is the message. “History is all about ‘what ifs’” a character says late in the novel. Mo ...more
I love the perspective this book gave me on the meanings of mortality and clues about how to make sense of all the choices life is made of. I experienced a lot of difficulty over digesting what this book is “about” for the first 100 pages or so, but ultimately was glad I chose just to ride with it without worrying about what it “means”. The meaning part filtered in on my personal river.

Call it speculative fiction if you will, but the book involves an alternative reality plot I don’t mind callin
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
2.5 stars. I didn't know it then, but some of my schoolwork from my younger days were palimpsests, manuscripts on which the original writing has been erased to make room for later writing, but where traces of the original writing remain.

Ursula Todd compares her life (lives) to a palimpsest: she has an apparently infinite number of do-overs of her life. It's kind of like Groundhog Day, except that she starts over at birth each time, and each life ends with her death. She has frequent deja vu expe
Julie Christine
‘Time isn’t circular,’ she said to Dr. Kellet. ‘It’s like a … palimpsest.’
‘Oh dear,’ he said. ‘That sounds vexing.’
‘And memories are sometimes in the future.’

A preternaturally wise ten-year-old Ursula Todd offers us this succinct thematic summation of Life After Life near the book’s end, after she has lived and died many times.

A palimpsest is also the perfect metaphor for Kate Atkinson’s luminous novel. Its multiple layers of theme and plot pile up like shadows, visible through the translucent
Michael Jensen
Oct 13, 2013 Michael Jensen rated it did not like it

I'm not sure I can communicate how angry this book made me and how angry I am that gave up enough of my life to read all 529 pages. I'm less mad at Atkinson, who thought she had a good idea, than I am at the idiotic book critics slobbering all over this nonsensical novel.

Many people have compared this book to the movie Groundhog Day where the main character lives the same day over and over. In Life After Life, the main character is born, lives a varying length of time, dies, and is born again.

Jan 20, 2013 Greg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book kept making me think of this song, for fairly obvious reasons once you read just a few chapters, although most of the lyrics are much darker and more disturbing than anything in the book:

First off, why is the American cover so blah? As far as an ARC goes it's fairly fancy, but the double ended rose? Blah.

The British publishers obviously know a thing or two about selling books, put a fucking fox on the cover! Foxes sell shit. Or use the magical
Mar 14, 2013 Cheryl rated it really liked it
Ursula lived many lives. The first time, she died as she was being born, strangled by the cord around her neck. The snowstorm prevented the doctor from arriving in time.
“No breath. All the world come down to this. One breath.
Little lungs, like dragonfly wings failing to inflate in the foreign atmosphere. No wind in the strangled pipe. The buzzing of a thousand bees in the tiny curled pearl of an ear.
Panic. The drowning girl, the falling bird.”
In the next chapter, Ursula is born again, but t

Updated to include a link to the video of Kate Atkinson's session at the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival in June 2013

Kate Atkinson’s novels share a number of characteristics, including sardonic humour, quirky characters and an exploration of the highs and lows of relationships between parents and children and between siblings. This novel is no different. Added to the mix is a particularly intriguing plot. It centres on Ursula Todd, who is born, dies and is re-born over and over again, li
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Kate Atkinson was born in York and now lives in Edinburgh. Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and she has been a critically acclaimed international bestselling author ever since.

She is the author of a collection of short stories, Not the End of the World, and of the critically acclaimed novels Human Croquet, Emotionally Weird, Case Histories,
More about Kate Atkinson...

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“Ursula craved solitude but she hated loneliness, a conundrum that she couldn’t even begin to solve.” 258 likes
“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?” 115 likes
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