Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
(Random House Audio, 2013)
Format: Audio CDs via library (narrated by Fenella Woolgar)
From Goodreads: "During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath. During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.
What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?
Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, she finds warmth even in life's bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here is Kate Atkinson at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves."
Oh, you've heard the buzz. And you've looked at the kinda weird roses on the cover and thought, 'eh, is this for me?' Well, you can trust me - the answer is YES. It's for you, it's for me, it's for humanity (not to get too OTT this early on in my review, but honestly? I'm not wrong.) I'm an avowed fan of Atkinson's, but it's not that I'm predisposed to adulation - she's always doing something a little, or a lot, different from before, so I take her on a case by case basis. Much like Ursala begins to do, at the point in her life when she realizes that her choices have some very clear consequences. Ursula is a compelling, emotion-driven scientist, and her area of study is her life. As she relives and relives crucial moments in her childhood, first unknowingly then deliberately altering events to avert tragedies for the people in her world, Ursula makes us all think about the lengths we would go to to prevent harm to our loved ones. And when our loved ones start being endangered by world events, it stretches Ursula - and us. How far will we go, how much will we put up with, how much should we personally suffer to bring about change, and will our sacrifices even work?
It's not just big concepts, though. Life After Life is also a story about family, about the beloved little brother and the difficult big brother, about the black sheep aunt and how she fits in, about chance meetings that mean the world. All that gorgeous detailed stuff that Atkinson does so well, as well.
This was the first narration of Woolgar's I've heard, and there is something deceptively placid about her tone that still had the power to stop me in my tracks. I wanted to flip back and forth a lot more than usual with this book so it may have been a better choice for me in paper, but Woolgar drove the pace admirably and I'm glad to find another narrator I enjoy.