Read by Fenella Woolgar
Length: 15 Hrs 34 Min
Genre: Fiction (Beyond that, you decide.)
Quick Thoughts: Life After Life is a novel that defies easy categorization. It’s a genre busting look at life in the 20th century through the eyes of a normal women given the extraordinary ability to relive her life. Life After Life is one of the most fascinating novels I have read in a long time, and while at times I felt dragged down by the melancholy of the tale, by the end, I wanted to keep experiencing the many lives of Ursula Todd.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was a book that was barely even on my radar. Sure, I had heard of Kate Atkisnon. I knew she wrote some curious dog book or something. I had heard the news that two books with the same name were released on the same day. I placed all this information in that nice box where you put information about books that other people will be reading in, and wrapped it up with one of my twisted, nano-infused bows and forgot about it. Slowly, I begin hearing rumors that people were calling Life After Life a speculative fiction novel, and that may have tickled a bit part of my brain, even if I wasn’t quite sure which Life After Life they were talking about. It really wasn’t until I read Devourer of Books review that suddenly the box was ripped open, the nano-bow thrown to the side, and my interest was piqued. My first reaction upon reading her excellent review was that this book reminds me of one of my all time favorite novels, Replay by Ken Grimwood. Now, I knew Life After Life wouldn’t be anything like Replay, in reality, but it seemed to share its genre defying classification and use of metaphysical Time Travel. The idea that we can relive and redo out lives has always fascinated me. If I could have one thing, it would be a restart button, where after I screw something up royally, I can just reset the game and start again. Yet, how much would remain? What lingering effects would choices made in one play of the game affect the choices after we flip the switch? How different would my life by if I changed one thing, or avoided one event?
On a snowy day in 1910, Ursula Todd was born, and then died before barely even taking a breath. On a snowy day in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, this time to take that breath. Thus begins the many lives of Ursula Todd. Through heartbreak and tragedy, war and trials, Ursula Todd lives and dies, each life taking different paths. Life After Life is a novel that defies easy categorization. It’s a genre busting look at life in the 20th century through the eyes of a normal women given the extraordinary ability to relive her life. It would be easy to say Life After Life is a novel about fate, about how choices and events shape a person, greatly affecting the lives we lead. While it’s true I also I think this is an oversimplification. What Life After Life is truly about is character. With each life, each direction, Ursula remains Ursula at her core. There will be no perfect life, no time where she makes all the right choice, finds the love of her life, and lives happily forever after. Like every human that has ever lived, Ursula is flawed, and destined to live her life as she will. Sure, there are huge life altering moments, both experience and avoided, that send her spiraling down entirely different paths. Part of me wondered if major events in one life began to leave psychic scars for her next life, thus preventing her from ever achieving full success in any one area of her life. Atkinson uses the format she creates to manipulate us on an emotional level. She balances extreme melancholy moments, with moments of shocking morbid humor. 8 year old Ursula will, for reasons she’s not even totally sure of, take drastic steps to prevent family members from interacting with people during the outset of the Spanish flu She finally gives Ursula a true Romanic side, a true storybook romance, except the man she falls for just happens to be a Nazi. At the center of this all is a very turbulent historical epoch that Atkinson captures wonderfully. Her tales of the London Blitz were especially well done, cultivating the conflicting emotions of that time, and truly presenting a harrowing, apocalyptic vision of WWII that we often gloss over in out American History classrooms. There is an unevenness to Life After Life, that I think actually ends up serving the tale. Not every moment will work for every person. I struggled with some of Ursula’s lives, while others completely enthralled me. Overall, this unevenness created a fascinating mosaic of life choices and core values that made Ursula a character that sticks with you well after the final page. Life After Life is one of the most fascinating novels I have read in a long time, and while at times I felt dragged down by the melancholy of the tale, by the end, I wanted to keep experiencing the many lives of Ursula Todd.
The unique story structure of Life After Life creates challenges for audiobook narrator Fenella Woolgar. It takes a while for the listener to adjust and buy into the format of the story. For me, it was a good hour before I started getting my brain around things, and probably another hour before I really became ensnared in the story. Woolgar does an excellent job easing the listener into the story. There is enough pause, and change in tone to indicate the transitions of the tale, and while at times disconcerting, Woolgar does a good job picking up Atkinson’s cues and emphasizing them as each new life begins. What I really loved about Woolgar’s performance was her ability to allow her characters to mature, and keep it consistent. She manages to tailor her characters voices to fit their age and station in life, and keeps her vocalizations fluid from life to life, while maintaining the core of each person. Woolgar did an excellent job bringing Atkinson’s tricky tale to life, making it an audiobook worth investing a part of your life in.
Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this titles for review.