Reader’s Advisory: Life after Life

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson tripped me out for the first while.

From Amazon: “On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Ursula’s world is in turmoil, facing the unspeakable evil of the two greatest wars in history. What power and force can one woman exert over the fate of civilization — if only she has the chance?

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.”

I don’t know why, but when I was reading the book, it wasn’t immediately clear to me when Ursula was starting a new life. Basically every new “chapter” is a new attempt at her life and it doesn’t always start in the exact same place or in the exact same perspective. I think if it was a movie, they might replay it that way, but that would be awfully boring as a novel. After a while, you get used to the style and learn when she’s living a new life, especially since she dies a bit more dramatically as she grows older, as adults tend to do.

While this book isn’t directly related to cancer, palliative care, or some other sort of health, similar to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I’ve chosen it for the reader’s advisory as it induces the reader to think about their life so far and going into the future and how they could “live better”.  Every time Ursula dies, she overcomes an obstacle that was quite the obstruction in her past life; she learns from “past” actions and lives her life a little “better”.

Basically, how does one best #yolo?

In this story, you don’t really get to know anybody besides Ursula since she keeps dying and it isn’t written to cover the itty bitty details of growing relationships or personal growth. It’s a lot of “How is she going to die this time? Am I going to be able to handle it? How much does she accomplish this time around?” It’s a bit of a bizarre thing to try to connect with, considering we only have one life (unless you believe in resurrection and samsara) and we can’t bet on ourselves being like Ursula and doing better the next time around. That’s some of the beauty of this story though, isn’t it? #yolo

We can’t choose to be kinder in the next life, or take more risks next time, or after this death you’ll appreciate your loved ones a little more. (As far as we know) We don’t get to be like Ursula, but if we did, what would be our goal that we worked towards? If we were to tweak our lives after every death to reach the goal, how far would we be willing to go and what is it that matters enough to become a goal? OR do you just embrace the fact that you are, in some ways, immortal, and go about a monotonous life or an uninhibited risky life and accept that you’ll have another chance after this? Disregard the greater good and #yolo your life into oblivion.

This ties into 2015 ending: every year, millions of people make resolutions for the new year, vowing to themselves (and sometimes broadcasting to others) that they’ll change, they’ll do more with themselves and their lives, that this year it will be different, it will be better. I mean, we don’t have quite the same influence over the world as Ursula does, but I suppose we do have the same power over our personal lives; at the very least, we have the same ability of choice of what to do with our lives.


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