In LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson, a woman lives her life over and over, trying to evade an untimely death. It's an intriguing premise, and I adored the execution.
The novel opens as a baby is born during a snowstorm in 1910 England. The umbilical cord is wrapped around her neck, and she dies. The story begins again. This time, the doctor has made it through the storm to attend the delivery, and he cuts the cord, saving the baby's life. The little girl, Ursula, goes on to have a childhood, but then she dies in an accident. The story begins again.
As Ursula's lives continue, she acquires some awareness of the paths previously taken, and she tries to change circumstances to prevent her own death. She isn't always successful, and the book develops a darkly humorous attitude toward her predicament. Despite the often grim subject matter, this is a very funny novel. Ursula's array of relatives and friends include some amusingly infuriating characters, and the narration is full of biting commentary on their antics.
The book's historical content is fascinating and detailed. Ursula witnesses and falls victim to several major historical events of the first half of the twentieth century. Atkinson has clearly done her research on the Spanish influenza epidemic, World War II, and especially the London Blitz. I recommend LIFE AFTER LIFE to fans of historical fiction, those who like non-standard narratives, and really any interested reader.
(Note that another novel with the same title was also released this spring, so if you decide to pick up this book, make sure you get the right one.)