When the main character (spoiler alert) dies on the very first page of the book, you know you’re about to go on a ride with the author. In fact, from a snowy night in 1910 to the end of World War II, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, published in April, kills its protagonist, Ursula Todd, a dozen different ways—umbilical cord strangulation, influenza, falling from a rooftop, murder, suicide, and bombing—but she is resurrected, reinvented, and redirected. Both the reader and, to some extent, Ursula are aware throughout the adventures, that she has lived this life before and can change her future by slightly and sometimes dramatically altering her present.

What could be a chaotic and confusing roller mess in the hands of another author, Atkinson, best known for mysteries, including Case Histories, deftly maneuvers through a tumultuous span of European history, again and again changing the course of Ursula’s life and, eventually, the course of history.

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