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The Crack Magazine

Book of the Month: Life After Life (May 13)

Kate Atkinson, Doubleday, £18.99

Atkinson puts her crime-solving detective Jackson Brodie on the backburner for her latest book which is an enthralling time-hopping (and history re-writing) epic that spans the first half of the twentieth century. The principle character is Ursula Todd, born into a well to do family in 1910, who, because the doctor can’t reach their countryside house during a snowstorm, dies during birth just as the novel is getting under way. Game over. Except that in the second retelling of her life story, the doctor gets through and she survives. This time she makes it to the age of five before succumbing to the darkness once more (the author’s metaphor for death), only to respawn once again. It sounds a tricksy conceit but Atkinson wears it lightly and is confident enough to have chapters flashing backwards and forwards in time (each is helpfully labelled with the date) without losing narrative propulsion. Ultimately, the novel is a gripping family saga, which has both world wars as a backdrop (the parts dealing with the Blitz are outstanding), and shows how Atkinson can make this wildly inventive idea dance to her tune with ease. RM