Kate Atkinson's Life after Life Fascinates Page after Page

York-born novelist Kate Atkinson has long since achieved international acclaim, and yet it seems that none of her previous works have garnered quite the amount of critical praise that her latest, Life after Life is getting. And with good reason – Life after Life is a complex piece of literature, definitely a far-cry from the genre fiction that seems to be the label for most of Atkinson’s previous work.

It tells a simple story – that of the protagonist, Ursula’s life. Typically, when reading a novel, you don’t expect your protagonist to die in the second chapter. Yet Ursula does and is then reborn. And again, and again, numerous times over until the book’s resolution. Through its complex chronology, through all the repetition and the confusion, patterns begin to emerge in Ursula’s life – sorry, lives – that hint at her purpose of being. The very meaning of life emerges as a theme, and is explored with enough subtlety to keep the book exciting, if not exactly light.

In her previous novels, including Behind the Scenes at the Museum and her four detective novels featuring detective Jackson Brodie (starting with Case Histories), Atkinson has demonstrated that she’s not afraid to test the limits of her characters. Never is this more expertly done than in Life after Life, where not only is Ursula tried over and over again, the reader is too. After all, this is a book that introduces a character, makes the reader come to know and love her, and then destroys her in every conceivable way in front of our very eyes. We’re not saying it’s an easy read. But Life after Life is definitely worth it.


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