Life after Life, Kate Atkinson(74 Posts)
I advanced ordered this for my kindle, which I left on the bus and have yet to retrieve from the bus station.
So has anyone read it yet?
It seems like it's going back to her first books pre Jackson Brodie and I can't wait to read it.
Collected this from the library yesterday and am the stage of stroking the cover while I finish my current book. Looking forward to a debate on here...
I was going to start a thread on this! I just finished it, it's an absolutely cracking read, but I have to admit to being confused by the last few chapters. Whereas for the first half to three-quarters of the book, you can get the basic idea (ie Ursula relives the same life over and over but in each one she lives a bit longer because e.g. an accident or illness is prevented from happening), the permutations become more complicated towards the end.
So I would love it if someone else could read it and explain it all to me.
I reserved this at the library when I first saw it mentioned on MN that Kate Atkinson had a new book out - I am no 66 on their waiting list of 327!!
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
I really want to read this, but it's v. expensive for my Kindle... I will need to wait!
Thanks Beer I am looking forward to this book and so are a lot of other library users! Just have to be patient...
Mine arrived yesterday, and is on the shelf of books to read. I am saving it for the Easter holidays, when I plan to have 14 days of reading, coffees and nice lunches.
Envy of dunlurking for having a library that gets books so quickly.
I reserved it the other day too, I'm 78 in a queue of 84 - but they have 61 copies on order (that's for the whole county) so shouldn't be too long. Only costs £1, well worth it I think.
[Smug emoticon] at elkiedee
Am staring at 3 inches of Cumbrian snow with book open, and coffee at hand. Have hard heartedly packed kids off on the school bus even though every other child in the village is having a snow day and I will have to battle through to get them as the bus driver says he wont make it through the snow this afternoon. Worth it for
6 hours of undisturbed reading their important academic studies .
[Guilty emoticon] as ds has texted to say bus crashed into a tree and has broken windscreen but driver is battling on to get them to school.
I have now started to read this.
Two chapters in.
Spent my christmas book tokens on this yesterday. This was always my idea for a novel but glad one of my favourite authors beat me to it
I have just started it too. Slightly disturbed that Ursula has died twice already and I'm only a few pages in!
I went to a talk with KA last week and it was fascinating to hear her talking about the process of writing it.
I'm worried I won't like this as much as the Jackson Brodie ones, as I live crime and those were so clever and tightly plotted, whereas this seems different.
I love Kate Atkinson - mine is on its way and I can't wait to get started so marking place.
Just finished racing through and was a bit confused by the ending - why did Teddy say thank you?
Heard an interview with KA on the radio last week and was amazed to hear that the way she starts writing a novel is by thinking of the title and then thinking of the plot.
Just finished it yesterday. Wonderful.
Her characters are so well developed, and the plot so engrossing. Going back to see why Teddy said thank you, was it because she didn't give up hope?
Bit more like Human Croquet, which I loved.
Ooh, I loved Human Croquet too. Can't wait to read this new one.
Kindle price is SLOWLY coming down....
<taps foot impatiently>
Just finished it and LOVED it! Her best since Behind the scenes imo (I'm not a Jackson Brodie fan). Like one of the previous posters I did not fully understand the ending and would welcome some more comments on what it all means??? I think I'll have to read it again to get a better understanding.
I found it took a while for me to really warm to the story and characters but by the time I got into the second half I literally didn't want to put it down. I found Hugh a particularly wonderful character and so well written I just about felt he was my own dad I couldn't help but imagine him looking like Lord Grantham from Downton (probably because he's called Hugh Bonneville!) The whole book was so moving and made me feel completely blessed for not having experienced war first hand, whichever way you look aat it and whatever Ursula did to try and prevent it it seems that the war wrecked all of their lives in one way or another (which is perhaps Kate Atkinson's point?) The part where Ursula lived in Germany during the war was particularly eye-opening I thought.
I don't fully understand why Teddy said thank you either, it seems important though... did he perhaps know somehow that Ursula had brought about a change in his fate? Did Ursula fully understand what was happening and remember her previous experiences by the end? Any comments much appreciated!
Have just finished this and feeling bereft now. Agree with you FreddoBaggyMac as it took me until the second half to really get into it, but loved and savoured it thereafter
MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT - don't read beyond this unless you've read the book. I MEAN IT!
Also puzzled at Teddy's thank you but I think it was for saving Nancy's life. Ursula had forgotten to save Nancy from childhood death when she had the life where she fell in love with Ben at 16. I read it that she contemplated life after that little breakdown and decides to commit suicide and try again in order to get Hitler sorted and Nancy saved....which means she sacrifices the life she could have had with teenage love and Ben.
BUT I don't understand how Teddy saying thank you can be the same life as killing Hitler - surely she dies when killing Hitler so that scenario and history doesn't actually play out any further? It is all v confusing, but wonderful. Wish she had gone on with another 9 lives or so.
Is the opening chapter/scene of the book where she shoots Hitler (and titled November 1930) the same as the scene at the end when she shoots him? The last is titled December 1930. Is that significant? And are there other significant differences between these two scenes that I should be getting?
Dunlurking - that's a good suggestion about Teddy's thank you and saving Nancy. That makes sense (though I'm already forgetting bits of it so will have to go back and check).
It was the Hitler thing that puzzled me. She kills Hitler, and dies, but then seems to live another life in which the war actually happens, because Teddy returns from it, and she lives to see him. But why? Couldn't work that out at all. I also wondered if Teddy had lived all along, iyswim, in every single one of her lives, except it's only in the last one that she finds out he's still alive.
Throughout the book I wondered about Izzy's son (it is Izzy, isn't it? I mean the aunt), and then he suddenly turns up in one of the final lives and comes to live with the family. I couldn't understand why that happened in one life but not the others - and also what had happened to him in the other lives.
I galloped through this book - so gripping (helped that I was on hols last week). Was also confused re. Teddy saying 'thank you' but by that stage I'd got lost in the permutations. But loved it anyway.
According to an interview I saw, she is thinking of writing Teddy's version of events so it might all come clearer. Possibly.
Sadly she also said she'd no plans to do any more Jackson Brodie
oh no! I really like Jackson. #bringbackbrodie
I'd rather she did more stuff like this than Jackson Brodie personally... I love the idea of a book from Teddy's perspective. I have the feeling that in the final life we read about Ursula is fully aware of the multiple lives she's lived and confided in Teddy, perhaps he's living multiple lives as well... that really would give scope for many confusing scenarios!
Loved this book. Amazing wartime sections and the little Spanish flu groove was very thought provoking. Written with KAs usual lightness of touch.
Did anyone else wonder if Izzie's son was Hitler? Not sure if that works, but I thought Roland was a bit random and always wondered why her son was adopted in Germany for purposes of the story.
Re-read and still think the ending is confusing, as how would Teddy know if she had saved Nancy or tweaked his fate? Could he perhaps also have started remembering past lives? Didn't understand the sudden appearance of Roland either, or the suggestion in the second iteration that Ursula had foregone marrying Juergen and having Frieda rather than just leaving Germany before the war. Would LOVE Teddy's view please Kate!
I am about to start reading this, very excited. I have read everything she has written and like Behind the Scenes at the Museum and Human Croquet best. Also adored her collection of short stories, especially the one about the nanny and the little boy.
Will be back when I have finished reading.
Just finished it. Another one who doesn't really get the ending but is feeling totally bereft now I have finished it.
Also, in the final life, do we assume that she DID kill Hitler and so, while there was still a war, it was less brutal and Teddy escaped this time? Or is it that she finally saves Teddy and Nancy who really matter?
Rose - I wondered that too. In a way I'm glad that other people are puzzled (not just me being stupid) but on the other hand I was hoping someone might explain it all to me! You see, I tend to think that Teddy was alive all along, but it was only in the last life that she lived long enough to see him again. (Or am I misremembering? Is there one where she lives till the 1960s? Am already forgetting bits.) But surely surely there has to be a clue as to what happens to Izzy's son - it seemed so significant that he ended up in Germany in most of the lives and yet that just fizzled out. (In the long German section I thought it might turn out that he was the man Ursula married.)
Agree, hackmum, I felt the German connection for his adoption was going to be some sort of link when she went there. Also, we weren't told the child's sex so I had initially wondered if the child was one of the family of girls she goes to stay with, or Eva?
I think she does just live long enough to see him but is he alive rather than dead because the person who witnessed his plane crash was so sure he died?
Also, who killed Nancy and Angela? The mystery was only resolved with a limping man, but we were never told who he was. Was he just another victim of war?
Also, when Izzy fled to California with a famous playwright, they were described as "the Cowards". Did you take it to mean she had married Noel Coward?
So many questions....
Izzy's child can't be Hitler, he would be 20 years too young.
Waterstones have their own edition of Life after Life with an interview/questions answer section with Kate Atkinson at the end of the book. Can't quite remember
was trying to avoid being moved on from my blatant reading everything she says in it but she definitely refers to Teddy being grateful to Ursula at the end, but doesn't explain what for.
hackmum you are right about there being one incarnation where Ursula lives into the 60s - and Teddy definitely died in that one as Kate mentions something about that as well. Will have to
return to my shifty behaviour seek out another Waterstones to reread the interview...
Oh and I see this book is a hot favourite on the Women's prize shortlist...
I do hope it wins the Women's prize - I love BUTB, but it's already won two major prizes so it would be nice to see Atkinson get it.
Rose - was Cowards with a capital C? I assumed it just meant that they were cowards for not sticking out the war.
I'm hating it so far. Does it improve ?
Yes ladymountbatten. Spoiler alert
Is Sylvie going through the same thing and that's why she had the scissors?
Not sure about the capital but, as Noel Coward was a failed screenwriter, I felt it was a good joke.
I'm starting this tonight. Can't wait.
Behind The Scenes At The Museum is my favourite of hers, so am glad to read it's her best since that book.
*BIG SPOILER ALERT*
Just finished and hugely enjoyed this. And then immediately came to this thread to see what other people who've read it thought it meant at the end .
It's quite ambiguous isn't it?
Dunlurking, the two shooting scenes are slightly different. She has different cake and in one, Hitler is with a blonde woman. And, as you say, they are dated differently.
I took it to mean that she tried to stop the war by shooting Hitler in two (or more) lives, but it didn't work, as you say, because she was then shot.
I took Teddy's survival to be a random quirk in one of the lives. Almost everything was the same, but he just managed to eject in time. Like the psychiatrist's son being killed and then not existing at all in a later life. So the book was maybe saying that every life has kinks and turns that sometimes lead to nothing, sometimes to unexpectedly profound consequences.
But the very sad bit, in the very last chapter, how I interpreted it anyway, was that it still all goes back to the beginning, and she has to live another life. And another . . . .
Is this all nonsense?! I did read it very slowly, and wrapped around another book. I'd like to read it again all in one go, quickly. Am I way off anyone else's mark?
Behind the times here! just got it for Kindle. I love having a back up of books to read. Thanks!
tangledupinpoo it's interesting that you've used the words "random quirk". If I think about the lives as more random then it makes more sense. I was trying to think why those 2 scenes with Hitler were or weren't the same. What the significance was. Maybe there doesn't have to be any significance? I guess I thought she was progressing through her lives putting more and more intent into them to improve the outcomes - either for her or others. That seems to work where Teddy is concerned, but not Hitler. Indcidentally I went back to waterstones for another read through of the interview with Kate at the back of their edition and she actually gives the book she is planning from Teddy's point of view a title (but I've forgotten it!)
Don't know if anyone else has read the YA book by Lauren Oliver called Before I Fall where a teenage girl lives the last day of her life over and over in a version of Groundhog Day. I loved it.
I have just read one of my favourite books ever. My other favourite is Behind the Scenes ... Loved them both, have reread BTS several times and no doubt will do the same with Life after Life.
I don't understand the end either but these are my initial thoughts:
1. ursula dies attempting (or succeeding in?) killing Hitler in December 1930. This fits with her later desire to put a halt to WW2 but the flaw in her plan is that she has to sacrifice her own life.
2. Therefore, the assassination attempt doesn't happen. She allows WW2 to proceed without her intervention, she survives as does Teddy (thankyou poster above for the suggestion that Teddy's thankyou is for Ursula saving Namcy's life) - so they both live - not just Ursula and not just Teddy.
I need to think some more, and to reread it.
Good point, Livid, I think you may be right. And thanks to Tangled for pointing out that the two Hitler scenes are different - I hadn't noticed that. (One disadvantage of the Kindle is that it's hard to flick back and forth.)
Hi, it's tangled here, having name-changed. I think you're right, Dunlurking, she does try to get things progressively more 'right' with each life, once she works it out. It is mostly not random - hence I suppose Nancy's survival.
But how Teddy's survival was described, it just seemed so similar to when he died; the only difference was that one of the guys in the plane with him managed to reach him to get him to eject, didn't he? (I am rubbish at remembering details.)
So this couldn't have been something that Ursula could have influenced?
I don't know, I'm probably barking up the wrong tree but I felt that KA was trying to show that no matter which choices we make, ie even if we could go back and make all the 'perfect' decisions, we can't control everything?
I didn't get the significance of the difference in the two cafe scenes, other than that it indicates she tried (at least) twice to shoot him. Might have to go back and reread both scenes!
Ooh hackmum, that's interesting to know about Kindles. I am a dreadful flicker in books!
Do you think KA would come back for a webchat, once it's been out a bit longer?
I'm also with the 'random quirks ' concept. I think it's the only way the book makes sense, because with each life ursula lives, the actions of other characters are also going to be different, because every time ursula change 'fate' (whether by saving someone, staying alive herself or whatever) then the future lives of all characters would be different too, only we don't get to know all the detail of them. The very fact that she prevents characters from dying means that there would be future relationships which wouldn't otherwise have existed
My perspective is that KA isn't so much trying to write a story where all the loose ends are tied up, it's more an exploration of her fascination with the possibilities of other lives. It was a fairly major theme on human croquet but has also been evident from her earlier writing - didn't ruby (in behind the scenes at the museum) say when her mother died that there was a feeling that they wished she could live her life again as a mother and do it better next time..
A webchat with KA would be fabulous I agree
This didn't really come off for me and I found it began to get tiresome about three quarters of the way through. Having got so far I might as well finish it, but it all seemed a bit unresolved. There could have been a lot more variations in Ursula's world, I thought - such as the one where Izzy's child was adopted into the family. Instead everything usually dragged on much the same.
Is it a mistake when Teddy looks at the Cenotaph in Whitehall and says something like "All those names". There are no names on the Cenotaph as any fule kno, but I wondered if it was a subtle reference to differences in that version of the world? Probably not, but she could have dropped in more touches like that.
Latin (and Janey) - I think you're right about Ursula not being able to control everything.
I would love KA to come on for a webchat. We could ask her all these questions!
About Kindles - I am very devoted to my Kindle, but the flicking thing can be a major problem in any book that is long or complicated. I am currently reading I, Claudius, and there are so many characters, and they're all either related to each other or married to and then divorced from each other, and they often have similar names, so it's incredibly confusing. I would love to be able to flick back!
Really enjoy KA's writing. Perhaps this could be a MN bookclub book when it comes out in paperback? Tilly are you around...?!
Really enjoy KA's writing. Perhaps this could be a MN bookclub book when it comes out in paperback? Tilly are you around...?!
hi gailforce1, will flag for Tilly. Have you seen this?
I love KA. Just checked my local
totally useless library and the estimated wait to get this book is 3073 days!!!
Thank you GeraldineMumsnet, I only discovered KA because of MN along with many other authors and books.
DewDr0p I had to wait a long time for my copy from the library but they do order more copies if lots of people place reservations so I hope that yours will too!
Thank you everyone. I've just returned from seeing KA at the Sydney Writers Festival and while I absolutely loved the book, I was also confused about Teddy at the end. I wanted to ask her about it but thought it might be rude. Came home and after some googling found you guys and feel I now have a better grasp of the ending!!
just finished it and although I got very confused, thought it was beautifully written. I love her humour which does permeate despite truly awful scenes.
And my dad was in Bomber Command and flew Halifaxes, so I had a special soft spot for Teddy.
This was the first book I've read on my new birthday kindle. Am so appreciative of the comments about flicking, because this was a book I really would have liked to do some flicking with and I thought I was being dim at not being about to flick back and forth on kindle. Turns out you can't.
Is it just me or is this book a great deal more literary than the rest of her books?
Was glad of the kindle for some of the references. Not that I mind that, I just marvel at how versatile she is. From Tracey in 'Started Early ...' to Ursula. I loved both of them but they are so different.
I've always thought she was quite literary, but she is so light-handed in her intelligence. When will there be good news had loads of literary allusions in it (probably loads more that I missed!), just thrown in, thrown away.
I love her writing (can you tell?!). Her plots are great - fantastical admittedly - and her characters memorable, yet believable. And she's jokey and slightly cynical. Fab writer.
I've just finished this book and loved it. She writes so incredibly movingly and the second world war stuff was fascinating.
I loved Hugh and would like to have known more about his marriage to Sylvie. Who was she with that day that Ursula saw her in London? What went wrong at the end that they were increasingly snappy with each other.
So many questions unanswered but that's what I love about her writing.
I loved this but wish I could have read it I one ir 2 sittings. With a baby and a 2 year old I ended up reading a page here and a page there.
I wondered if perhaps Izzies baby grows up to be a German soldier who kills Teddy... so Rolands being kept by the family and the frowning saves Teddys life?
The Blitz stuff was fantastic and reminded me of Sarah Waters Nightwatch.
Overall my favourite KA since Behins the Scenes ATM.
Eek drowning not frowning
or nor ir.
Typing on phone at 4am while BFing baby, sorry.
Another who loved the book but was confused by the ending. But I've let it slightly wash over me and my overall view is she kept going until she got it right-ish but wasn't able to influence whole world events (like no WW2) just outcomes (Teddy's death) iyswim. The piece where she kills Frieda was devastating.
Really loved this book, but was also confused by the ending, first I thought she had killed Hitler and for some reason Teddy knew this and was saying thank you..........I think Teddy was alive the whole time, I have to go back and reread this it though, maybe I'll gain more understanding.......
Another confused one her who although I couldn't understand the ambiguity of it just loved it from start to finish.Something about KAs style of prose draws me into all of her books,and I completely lost myself in an almost dreamlike state whilst reading it.The closest thing to time travel I'm likely to experience!
Just finished it quietly now out in a quiet corner of the garden having deceived to abandon all jobs for an hour and just immerse myself in it and feel bereft now.Will certainly re-read Behind the Scenes now as it's been on my mind to do that previously.
Meant to say having decided not deceived !
So, leaving a few blank lines so that anyone who hasn't read it can stop now:
what was the significance of her headaches - she seemed to get them in a number of different lives? Was it to show that many things about her remained the same - however differently life turned out (Germany in 1945, Hyde Park after retirement), some things were constant - getting headaches being one of them?
yes, i think Sylvia was doing the same thing - towards the beginning the author says that Sylvia did know a hotel (Imperial in Austria? can't remember) that someone else mentioned, but didn't say so. At least I think that happens, though haven't gone back to check. We never hear of her going to the Imperial in these lives, so.... And also there is that strange scene when Ursula spots her in Knightsbridge with another man, which is never referred to again.
any afternoon readers (!) with a view on the 'head' question? - but don't read down to the next post if you haven't read the book yet! I am still intrigued...
Just finished this. Fell very flat for me at the end. DH always says I don't 'get' plots (sadly true!) so perhaps that was my problem, but I couldn't keep any of the lives straight or work out which was meant to be her 'true' life (if there even was one - I wanted there to be). I enjoyed the writing and the characters tremendously but honestly felt it would have read better as a straightforward story arc!
Wish she'd get back to Jackson Brodie, actually. I don't think any of her other novels have ever lived up to BTSATM.
Ha ha, I keep coming back to this thread .
Bue, the details of the book are starting to fade a bit for me now, but I think some of the flatness is the futility of the always-replayed lives, even when Ursula gets it mostly right. (Ie the last life, Teddy survives, Nancy survives, and yet, it still goes back to the beginning. ) I think it's supposed to feel a bit bleak and futile, maybe? I felt it was anyway.
alpinemeadow I didn't really pick up on the headaches carrying through her lives. Could it be just all the noise in her head from experiences carried over from different lives?
(Incidentally, one of my favourite lines is when she stops them all getting Spanish flu by inventing the maid's sweetheart being unfaithful, then says something like 'well at least no-one got pushed down the stairs' and then they all look at her like .
I agree with you about seemingly significant events that then don't crop again. In one life she meets a woman by a water pump in London during the war, and it feels like a connection, and that this woman will play a bigger part in another life. But no, we don't hear of her again. Do you think it, again, is just noise? ie Ursula has mixed-up half experiences from many lives going round in her head, and sometimes they get a bit confused. Don't really know tbh.
I loved this book Bue (can you tell ?) but I also loved When Will There be Good News, despite the fairly dark subject matter. I loved the self-possession and competence of Joanna Hunter and the cinematic ending (don't want to spoil) of her exit at the derelict house with her baby. I loved Reggie's innate intelligence. And Louise's messed-up attitude to love. Could go on and on . . . !
I just finished Life After Life after an intensive weekend reading session. I loved the two particularly difficult loops that Ursula has to try so hard to get out of (Spanish Flu "Darkness, and so on", and Argyll Road which becomes so sad by the final time). Teddy is just wonderful.
I'm reading this at the moment, and really enjoying it. Found the first few chapters hard to read (because of the sadness of the subject matter, not the confusing structure, although that took a little getting used to as well). I think it's my favourite KA book since BTSATM, due to the richness and general likeability of the characters.
I'm about 50 pages from the end (iPhone pages anyway) so i haven't read this thread very closely in case of spoilers . But I'll be back.
I loved it and am a huge KA fan anyway. Agree that it's more similar to Behind the Scenes. Aside from the wonderful characters (she does Hugh and Sylvie so well -wonder what her parents are like!) I just love the attention to detail and it must have taken a huge amount of research. And the blitz accounts really draw you in.
I also think the different scenes illustrate that yes, you can change things to an extent but that to an extent there are elements out of an individual's controle. Eg the Hitler scenes that were thrown in there. Did I imagine it or was there reference to some of his cronies? Si she could assassinate Hitler but there was someone waiting in the wings who would wreak just as much carnage anyway?
I would love to see an account by Teddy too.
Just finished this. Someone asked what broke in Hugh and Sylvie's marriage and caused them to be increasingly snappy with each other. Wasn't this mentioned by Ursula's sister Pamela in the life when Ursula was in the abusive marriage to Derek? I thought at the time I read it that Hugh's love for Sylvie had died a bit when he saw how appallingly heartless she was to Ursula over the abortion and not having remained intact (as she puts it). Ursula says in that life after the abortion that Sylvie had loved her but now she didn't and I thought maybe Hugh's love for Sylvie died alongside it. Also when Nancy is killed Sylvie makes a comment suggesting it's their mother's fault for letting her daughters roam around and Hugh says something like "Oh Sylvie, where is your heart? " I think those circumstances show him a side to Sylvie that might not have been so apparent in the lives where she avoids the rape and Nancy's death.
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