Literary Fiction


Cassandra Neace

Staff Writer

Cassandra Neace is a high school English teacher in Houston. When she's not in the classroom, she reads books and writes about them. She prides herself on her ability to recommend a book for most any occasion. She can be found on Instagram @read_write_make

Life After Life

I am late to the Kate Atkinson party. I attempted to read one of her Jackson Brodie books, and I just couldn’t get into it. I started with the most recent, instead of the first in the series, so I filed her away as an author to try during one of my series reading sprees on a vacation or at the holidays. I wasn’t especially excited about Life After Life when I started hearing buzz from early readers in the last few months. I usually tend to run from buzz. Last week, I finally got around to reading a description of the book, and I was more than a little intrigued.

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.  Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can — will she?

I saw that the book was included in an ebook sale for the Nook this past weekend, and I downloaded it. I started reading immediately. I didn’t have the time that I wanted to read it straight through, but I read it every chance I got. When I put it down, I would try to retrace the story I’d read. I thought about how many lives Ursula had led on those pages. I thought about the differences from one life to the next. I was completely caught up in the story from the very first time that poor Ursula died.

I also thought things I’d seen or read before that were even remotely similar. The first time couple of times that darkness fell and the story re-started, I thought about that Audrey Tatou movie, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. It does this rewind thing in the middle and the story is presented from a different perspective. That’s not the best parallel, though. I also thought of that Ashton Kutcher movie The Butterfly Effect. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to what Atkinson has done here, but it falls far short of what she has accomplished.

One of the most interesting things about Life After Life is that it doesn’t really end. I find myself imagining Ursula’s next life. I imagine that she is just a little different, does things a little differently, and that history is forever altered. She is just one of those characters that stays with the reader. She has, in nearly every instance, a terribly sad life. But, for some reason, I still find myself jealous of her unique ability. Who wouldn’t want the chance to do it all over again?

It has been a few days since I finished the book, and I can’t seem to shake it. I keep thinking of new paths for Ursula to take. I cannot count the number of times that I have wanted a book to keep on going. And I always thought that meant that there would be more words on the page for me to read. There are no more words to be read, but I know this character and the world that she lives in so well that I can keep it going on my own.  I feel like I’m a part of Ursula’s life, and I know that she’s a part of mine. She’ll be around for a while.

There’s a pretty cool trailer for the book, too.  You can check it out on


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