04/09/2013 02:09 pm ET

'Life After Life' By Kate Atkinson: The Book We're Talking About This Week

Life After Life
By Kate Atkinson
Little, Brown, $27.99
Out now

What is it about?
Ursula Todd is born on a snowy day on February 11th, 1910 to a wealthy British family. Sadly, she is strangled by her umbilical cord and dies almost immediately. Except that she doesn't, as every time that she dies - whether from a fall or from influenza - she is born again, exactly as before, but with enough of a memory of the last time to make a few changes.

Why are we talking about it?
This unusual literary novel is one of the most fun, moving books of the year so far. Its premise is deceptively simple, yet the twists of the narrative are impossible to predict each time the heroine samples another path.

Who wrote it?
Kate Atkinson MBE is a British author, whose first novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum was nominated for Whitbread Book of the Year in 1995. She's best known in the US for her book Case Histories.

Who will read it?
Fans of unusual literary novels, people who read the year's best books, fans of sci-fi/literary crossovers.

What do the reviewers say?
The Guardian: "Much of the (very considerable) pleasure of this almost deliriously inventive, sharply imagined and ultimately affecting novel lies in the almost spookily vivid atmosphere and pathos that Atkinson manages to extract from all this Groundhog Day repetition."

Washington Post: "Atkinson’s period research can be heavy-handed... But the Blitz segments vibrate with life... Buried inside “Life After Life” is the best Blitz novel since Sarah Waters’s The Night Watch."

Boston Globe: "A thoroughly entertaining, periodically moving read."

Impress your friends:
The "Groundhog Day Loop" is a trope that has been employed in many different books and films, including Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall (where the lead character relives the day of her death over and over again), and Kurt Vonnegut's Timequake, where everyone has to relive what they did in 1991. You can see a comprehensive list of different cultural works that use this trope at

Opening line:
November 1930. A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the café. She had come in from the rain and drops of water still trembled like delicate dew on the fur coats of some of the women inside.

Typical passage:
She was very cold. The man was holding her hand, squeezing it, "Come on Susie, stay awake now." But she couldn't, the soft dark was beckoning to her with the promise of sleep, endless sleep, and the snow began to fall gently until she was entirely shrouded and everything was dark.


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