I found Life After Life rather isolating to read: halfway through the book I became convinced that I was the only human being in the world who didn’t like it. ‘Dazzling,’ ‘Triumphant.’ All the reviews glowed, but I was left out in the cold.
The premise is this: Ursula Todd lives her life over and over again. If she dies falling out of a window when she’s five, she’ll get another go – this time she’ll avoid the plunge. Ursula is born in the idyllic 1800s, and watches the world change completely: we follow her life multiple times as she lives through two world wars, meets a cast of excellently-written characters, and slowly works out what she needs to do with her strange gift.
There are so many things to like about this book. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are enjoyably real (Ursula’s relationship with her sister Pammy is a real gem), and it was so good to have a female protagonist who showed complete independence. None of Ursula’s ‘happy endings’ involved a husband, and she was content with that. How many books have you read which feature that as a plot point?
And yet…I didn’t enjoy reading it. The idea of a reincarnated heroine was an interesting one, but in practise it didn’t work at all for me. Every time I was just getting into the book, it stopped and started again. There were no high stakes: sure, this life is bad, but I know she’s just going to die and next time she’ll escape the catalyst which led to her current misery. Eventually I gave up caring, because I knew that nothing was going to have any lasting consequences.
As a result, I can clinically stand back from Life After Life and say yes, this is a technically excellent book. But it never tugged at my heartstrings, it never made me feel anything for the characters. It never made me care.
Disclaimer: I may be the only reader on the edge who didn’t like this novel. Read it, think about it, make up your own mind about it. Join Gillian Flynn, Hilary Mantel and the Daily Telegraph, their praise right there on the book’s cover.
I’ll be the one scowling as darkness falls for the twentieth time.