It’s a case of always the Bridesmaid with this book after being shortlisted for ‘The Women’s Prize’, The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker’ Prize, and Waterstones Book of The Year in 2013 but somehow missing out on all not to mention not even being shortlisted for The Booker. It’s not that ‘Life After Life’ wouldn’t have been a worthy winner (it certainly would!) but it’s just been unlucky to go up against books equally as good.
I am a big fan of the ‘Jackson Brody’ books but it’s nice to have a new standalone novel from Atkinson featuring some really well-written feisty females reminiscent of the characters in ‘Behind the Scenes At The Museum’. It’s quite a hard one to describe without giving the entire story away but it examines the space between choice, fate and chance. The plot revolves around Ursula Todd, a baby born on 11th February 1910 who after being born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, unfortunately dies soon after. In the second chapter, we relive the scene again, this time Ursula lives as her mother intuitively knows how to revive her baby. Several years later, with her mothers back turned, she drowns at the seaside. After briefly reliving the day of her birth again, we go back to Ursula’s present day and find out in this life, she only nearly drowned. Throughout her childhood, the same pattern repeats, Ursula dies, we return to the day of her birth, Ursula lives, but each time there’s a change and a sense of deja vu that she is unable to explain. The First World War plays out in the background during Ursula’s childhood but it is during the Second World War, with Ursula now grown up, that the main story actually takes place. Some really bad things happen to Ursula and she endures her most violent and saddest deaths during this time but there’s always a hope each time she dies that her next life will be better. Ursula is fundamentally a decent person and you want her to keep resurrecting until she gets to fulfil her potential and for there to be a life line where she gets it all right and lives a happy, even an uneventful life. I’m not going to spoil the ending but I will say that I found the entire novel very clever and with the Costa Awards to be announced in January, I really hope ‘Life After Life’ finally gets the recognition it deserves.