Study Guide

Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson

Life After Life Introduction

We've all wanted a do-over, whether it's because we failed a final exam, missed a critical three-point shot in the last seconds of a basketball game, or hit that banana peel on the final lap of Mario Kart. But life doesn't work that way—you can't transform into TiVo and rewind for a second chance. Luckily, though, literature isn't like real life. If it all had to be realistic, we wouldn't have wizards, vampires, or virtual reality.

And in Kate Atkinson's case, it's a good thing that, with books, we can have do-overs. Just take the video-game-style retries of Run Lola Run, mix them with the eternal recurrence of Groundhog Day, andtoss in some serious writing chops, and—poof—you have Atkinson's Life After Life, published in 2013.

Known for her Jackson Brodie crime novels, Atkinson branched out a bit with this one. Being a bit morbid, she always wanted to write a war novel, and this is a war novel with a twist: Its heroine, Ursula Todd, is born and reborn time and time again, but with little-to-no recollection of her past lives. She shoots Hitler, lives in London during the Blitz, saves her friends and family from a variety of tragic deaths (drowning, flu, murder), and eventually gets to hook up with her childhood sweetheart. Ooh la la.

Through Ursula's eyes, we get a multifaceted view of the world during World War II. She lives in both Germany and England, giving us a fascinating historical perspective on parts of the world rarely seen in fiction—this book goes way beyond the Holocaust.

Life After Life was a Goodreads Choice 2013 winner and won the Costa Award for outstanding books in the UK and Ireland. Maybe in other lives, Life After Life will win the Pulitzer, a Nobel Prize for literature, and, in one really weird instance, a Tony. But since we only have one life—and we think you do, too—pick up a copy of Life After Life and get reading.

What is Life After Life About and Why Should I Care?

It's been over half a century since VE-Day, and even longer since Armistice Day, yet people are still talking about World Wars I and II. There are movies (Atonement, War Horse), books (Atonement, War Horse), and even video games about these global events.

So why do we need another story about war? Well, Life After Life is less a story about war than it is about living in uncertain times. And don't we always live in uncertain times? (All these questions make us think: Yes, yes we do.) It's a book about whether or not we have control over our own lives, whether we're living them over and over again or not.

Are we bound to make stupid mistakes (like betting on the Minnesota Vikings to win the Super Bowl or thinking Justin Bieber would grow up into a responsible adult), or are we able to change things? And either way, what are the repercussions for us and for others? As much as this book's about war, then, it's also about some of the Big Questions about being alive. And since we're assuming you're alive (unless zombies can read), then this one's definitely relevant to you.

Life After Life Resources

WEBSITES

Cover After Cover
Your one-stop shop for all things Atkinson, including her line-up of books.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

Edited for Content
The New York Times points out that Ursula's life is like a story, one that can be revised and revised until it's just right. But can you ever over edit?

An Ordinary Life
Atkinson discusses just how ordinary Eva Braun was in this interview about her book. Hitler's lover: She's just like us.

Question and Answer and Question and Answer and…
The Chatelaine book club interviews Atkinson and asks question after question about Life After Life.

Dog Eat Dog World
Atkinson reveals that she tends to like dogs a bit more than people in this wooftastic Goodreads interview.

VIDEO

It's All Just a Little Bit of History Repeating
Life After Life is better with Australian accents.

Want to Know More? It'll Costa
Atkinson discusses her Costa Award-winning book in a delightful little restaurant where we wish she'd invite us to dinner.

AUDIO

This is the Book That Doesn't End
Yes it goes on and on, our friends… Meg Wolitzer discusses the dangers of a book without a beginning, middle, or end in her review.

Death After Death
Atkinson discusses whether Ursula's many deaths diminish death itself (like when someone uses the "dead grandmother" excuse for the third time to get a day off work), or make it more poignant.

IMAGES

Beam of Light
Izzie has some hot wheels that probably look a lot like this. We can picture her in red.

Blitzed
In case you're thinking "the Blitz sounds so terrible, I wish I could see actual pictures of the horror," well, your wish has been granted.