Top positive review
How dead are dead ends?
Reviewed in the United States on August 20, 2018
Most reviewers of "Life after Life" have taken the main character's multiple deaths and resurrections as evidence that the novel is about second chances, the option of having a new life after the previous one has been snuffed out. I read it differently. On one occasion Sylvie Todd, the sharp-witted mother of the protagonist Ursula Todd, calls her daughter "Cassandra," referring to the mythical figure who had the gift of delivering dire prophecies that nobody listened to. Accordingly, I viewed the multiple calamities that befall Ursula - umbilical strangling, drowning, political assassination, rape, marital homicide - not as "what ifs?" imposed by a post-modern tease of a storyteller, but as projections of a mind uncannily attuned to the precariousness of living. How Ursula manages to create her own, authentic life in the face of such mind-bending catastrophes is the real story of Atkinson's oddly constructed ode to a very human heroism, and it is the beacon that leads the reader through the maze of dead ends. Set largely against the two greatest (real) disasters of the 20th century - the two world wars - Ursula's journey is an often scintillating one, deftly told. But, at some 500 pages, it's an awfully meandering trek, requiring you to maintain a balance between empathy for Ursula's trials and awareness of being manhandled by a relentlessly clever author. The experience is both exhilarating and wearying. Whether it's worth it in the end is a question that Atkinson leaves entirely up to you.