Life After Life
Random House AU
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before it can take its first breath, the cord wrapped around its neck.
But during a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives.
What if every time something went wrong in your life, you got another chance? To go back to a moment in time and change something? A doctor not being able to get through to deliver a baby, a man watching on a beach when a little girl gets into trouble, avoiding the friend of an older brother when he would attempt to waylay a young lady, being in a certain place at a certain time during the Blitz.
All things that could change a life and give a chance to live, to survive, and the chance of a different destiny.
This is Ursula Todd’s story. Born during a snowstorm in England in 1910, she is the third child of Hugh and Sylvie Todd and each time something happens in her life that leads to the fate of her birth, dying, her life resets and she is filled with foreboding, a feeling of deja vu that allows her to change some events, make different decisions and end up with a different outcome.
Life After Life is a complex and clever novel that gives the answer to the question so many of us ask ourselves – what if we had another chance?
This novel had a quiet and steady buzz and I think the basis of it appeals to everyone out there. What if you had a chance to change things? When Ursula Todd is born, she dies before she even takes a breath. Delivered alone by her mother and a 14yo servant girl, they don’t see until it is too late that the cord is wrapped around her tiny neck. But then Ursula is born again, this time with a doctor present who cuts the umbilical cord and allows her to draw air into her lungs and survive her traumatic birth. And so it begins: Ursula falls out a window and dies, she catches a deadly flu, she drowns at the beach, she dies of infection after a procedure, at the hands of a violent husband and she dies over and over again in the Blitz as the Luftwaffe bomb London. In one incarnation she is even married to a German, living in Germany at the time of WWII and she dies there too. But each time Ursula’s life goes back to one defining moment, where she can make one small decision and alter the outcome.
There’s no doubt that this is a very smart novel. It’s clever, it’s well written and it’s so thorough. I read this on my Kindle and I don’t usually say this about eBooks, but I think reading it electronically did detract from the overall experience of the book. It made it hard to go back in time and recheck things, each time Ursula “reset” (for lack of a better word). There were things I would’ve liked to compare between two lifetimes and flipping back in a paperback is so easy, on a Kindle, not so much. Also the electronic version didn’t always make the breaks in the story (often where Ursula resets) as obvious as they could. This may just be the review copy version that I read but it did mean that several times, it would take me a little while to realise that we’d changed time frames again.
One thing I liked was that throughout her various lives, Ursula’s character remained quite steady. Even though she had several very different lives, both as a child and as an adult, her core character remained the same. I also liked the fact that Ursula’s changing history meant that even though she could also alter the outcomes for some other people, these fates weren’t always escaped fully. In one instance, someone overdoses after the death of someone else and this very scenario is repeated later on, many lives and years later. In changing one thing, it seems that sometimes all you do is put off the inevitable. I found the times of the Blitz a little hard to read – because the war gave many chances for Ursula to die, she does, and often. So therefore that section of the book is quite long and there is one scenario that does seem very far fetched where she goes to Germany and ends up becoming friendly with a young Eva Braun. I nicknamed that chapter Holidaying With Hitler!
What I did like about this book was how it made me think about my own life? I’ve always had those sliding doors moments, where I’d think to myself ‘what would I be like now if I’d done this/not done that/if we’d moved there/if I’d gone to that University’ etc. This book takes it one step further and allows you to live each of the ways in which those small choices shape lives. It’s a terrifically voyeuristic novel that way and I think that aspect of it is brilliantly done. As I said, it’s very clever.
But did I love it? Not as much as I expected to. I enjoyed the read and I did get invested in Ursula’s life several times but I think I struggled to become more invested because you would connect with a life only to have it be over and revert back in time. But there’s no doubt that this is a very smart novel and I think it’s one that I’m definitely going against the tide on. It has a plethora of 5 star reviews and much praise, so I do urge people to try it! It just wasn’t something that I fell in love with.
Book #75 of 2013