Book Review – Life after Life

By Kate Arkinson

This book has Costa Novel Award 2013 Winner above the author’s name, on the cover. It is described as “dazzling”, “A box of delights”, and “Triumphant” – also on the cover.
The blurb on the back was interesting enough to make me buy it.
“What if you had the chance to live your life again and again until you got it right?”

It begins with a baby – stillborn. And the scene repeats with the doctor arriving in time to save the baby’s life.

Now….this book has been hailed as inventive.

But I am very disappointed. The character evolution is good in all cases apart from the lead character who seems to undergo a complete personality transplant from one lifetime to the next, at times. It’s a bit….perplexing. she has these ‘feelings’ of deja vu/imminense/dread and she acts – apparently at random – because she seems to have no conscious knowledge of learning from one lifetime to the next.
It is also perplexing how the other characters do not share her sense of deja vu, as while they didnt die in the previous or ‘other’ life, they certainly lived through her deaths. What are the mechanics of that? Parallel universes? String theory? My brain needs to know these things!!

I read it, with not so much a sense of how inventive the author was in her planning….but more as to how inventive she was to put so many false starts together and give it a theme. Or to see how many ways she could kill off her lead character en route to finding the actual story.

There was only so many times she could go back to the point of birth before it became ridiculous, and I think she went back there at least twice too many as it is. Then there’s a sudden jump as if she realises this and the pattern you have just gotten bored with, changes – but not in a good way. Its not in a way that makes you think ‘ahhh, at last’. No. It makes you go….’eh?’

And then you come to what you think is the conclusion of all the re-living of her life. A situation that she cannot get out of alive. And this, would more than likely have prevented the situation that caused her younger brother’s death. But dont forget – she couldnt have lived. Indeed the book itself tells you she died.

Then the final chapter – and without giving any spoilers it is tricky – but you see a happy ending that is unexpected. And no detail as to how this was finally achieved.

You also get an explanation from the author which isnt really an explanation at all.

So – my advice is don’t bother buying this. Borrow it from the library or from a friend if you are curious, by all means. Enjoy the description and characterisation. But if you are expecting clarity of plot ……or even a plot that is meant to be mysteriously intriguing……..you will probably be disappointed.

It might have been better to have made this book longer,with more detail where it was needed……at the conclusion…..and/or cut out a lot of the “how many ways can i kill her off” pointless repetitions that comprised almost half the book.

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