Study Guide

Life After Life Family

By Kate Atkinson

Family

Maurice poked a finger in the baby's face and she woke up and squawked in alarm. (4.48)

Maurice is the stereotypical mean older brother, even when he's only five years old. He will never grow out of this kind of bratty behavior, either.

How do you explain the magnitude of motherhood to someone who has no children? (6.39)

Sylvie wonders this about her childless friends, but Ursula feels a similar mother-child bond with her younger brother, Teddy, whom she would do anything for. Of course, in parallel lives, Ursula has had children, so maybe those motherly instincts just bleed over from there.

Hugh always looked vaguely startled to find his children at the same table as him. (6.97)

Hugh may not be a bad father, but he's kind of an oblivious one. He never associated much with his own parents when he was a child, so he has trouble relating to his own kids when they're really young.

"Don't write about my children, Isobel," Sylvie said heatedly to Izzie. (20.34)

Sylvie is very possessive of her children, but we think in this case, it might just be that she doesn't want Izzie to have anything to do with them. She probably wouldn't mind if other people, who weren't shameless hussies in her eyes, wrote about them.

If Teddy ever cried when he was young, Ursula could never bear it. It seemed to open up a chasm inside, something deep and dreadful and full of sorrow. All she ever wanted was to make sure he never felt like crying again. […] ("That's how motherhood feels every day," Sylvie said.) (20.79)

Ursula's relationship with Teddy almost feels more like a mother/son relationship than a brother/sister one. She is very protective of him, and in most lives doesn't have kids of her own, so she focuses on giving Teddy the best life she can.

"After all, woman's highest calling is to be a mother and a wife." (20.245)

Sylvie has very traditional views, which she tries to foist on her own children. Ursula shrugs this off, but Pamela, who often seems like the more modern thinker, ends up doing exactly that: being a wife and mother.

"I have money, but of course no husband. Nor do I have a child."

"Really?" Sylvie said. "Are you sure?"

Izzie ignored her. "No one to share my good fortune with. So, I was thinking, why don't I adopt Jimmy?" (20.654-656)

Izzie gave her child away, something that Sylvie never lets her forget. But without wanting to have another one, Izzie wants to acquire a family in some way… so she's willing to ask Sylvie for one of her kids.

Strange to be thinking of having children at all during a time when the very existence of the future was in doubt. (21.201)

It is indeed—and it doesn't go well for Freida and Ursula.

"Love at first sight," [Ursula] wrote giddily to Millie. But of course such feelings weren't "true" love (that was what she would feel for a child one day). (24.81)

This is the one timeline where Ursula gets married and has a child. That seems to be her priority here, as her mother's values have sunk in this time.

Being an aunt had helped to seal over the empty cavern in her heart from Teddy's loss. (25.613)

In one timeline, Teddy dies and Ursula suffers as though she's lost a son. She has to find someone else to focus her affections on, and she chooses one of Pamela's sons.