What would you do if you could go back in time?
Kate Atkinson's recent novel, Life after Life, is not exactly about time travel, but its protagonist nonetheless tries to prevent World War II. Ursula is born on a cold, snowy night in 1910; what follows is her life, or rather, lives, as she lives over and over. She is stillborn. No, she dies as a toddler. No, she survives the London bombings and the end of WWII, unless she is killed between the Wars. Atkinson tells her story over and over, each one different in big ways or small, showing how much in life is random -- and how much is inevitable. But Atkinson adds a supernatural element, as Ursula is increasingly subjected to a feeling of déjà vu and therefore tries to avoid the dangers she senses.
The first part of the book is particularly harrowing, as we see just how easy it is for a child to die. But it is utterly compelling, too, and one quickly becomes obsessed with seeing each iteration of Ursula's life play out. This is a magnificent, powerful novel, not just about fate and chance, but also, ultimately, about the horror and futility of war. It's a cliche, but I truly did not want the book to end. Ursula may be just one person, but she has a multitude of lives for us to explore.