Pamela Norris

Death on Repeat

Life After Life

By

Doubleday 479pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Life After Life explores the alternative lives of a child, Ursula Todd, born in England in 1910. In one version of the story, she dies at birth, strangled by the umbilical cord; in another, she survives this crisis only to drown in her fifth year, during a seaside holiday. In other variants (and this is just a selection), she perishes in the influenza epidemic after the First World War, is murdered by an abusive husband, is killed in the London Blitz, commits suicide in Germany and is poisoned by fumes from an unlit gas heater. The differing accounts of Ursula’s life are outlined in a series of parallel sections. There is considerable repetition, but the effect is kaleidoscopic, each storyline adding new information and perspective. The purpose of these variations appears to be the disquieting idea that it is possible to live again and again until finally one ‘gets it right’, but Ursula’s many misadventures emphasise the randomness of destiny: ‘One could lose everything in the blink of an eye, the slip of a foot.’

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