Book Talk: A Life Lived Over and Over Again

Kate Atkinson
Category: Reading

It’s time for another edition of Book Talk, and this month host Paul Gallagher and reviewers Peggy Hughes and Kirsty Logan had quite the challenge in Kate Atkinson’s new novel, Life After Life.

The somewhat mind- and time-bending Life After Life follows Ursula Todd through several versions of her own life—many of which end up with her dying at some point. Comparisons to the film Groundhog Day are inevitable, but the novel is less a comedy and more a thoughtful examination of life and the little twists of fate that can end in tragedy. According to Logan, it’s also:

‘a very quiet book; a very personal book. It’s about personal relationships, personal development, what makes a life, what makes a good life? She keeps replaying and replaying to get it ‘right’, but what, exactly, does that mean?’

Quite the heady subjects. But despite that and its preoccupation with death, our critics agree that there’s some wonderful humour to enjoy, plenty of beautiful prose, and a protagonist who inhabits so many different selves Hughes compares her to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. The novel’s structure also provided plenty of fodder for discussion, as Paul notes:

‘What I think Kate Atkinson does really well is...she develops her own shorthand in terms of the structure, she’s not having to revisit all the key points, and as she goes along, you find you can fill in what’s been missed out in the telling of the story because she’s jumped in at a key decision point, and I thought there’s real skill in that.’

Logan agrees:

‘[Living the same day over and over again is] not a new concept, but the way in which she does it is so interesting, she’s almost exploring it more metaphorically than literally.’

What did our reviewers think of the characters, the cover and the habit of reading the last page first? You’ll have to listen to find out!

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