The idea of immortality is, to say the least, not new. To consider some popular media examples: in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character, an arrogant weatherman, is forced to live the same day over and over until he gets it right. In the more recent ABC TV show Forever, the lead is a man who in the past two centuries has “died” dozens of times but for some reason keeps getting reborn as his astonishingly handsome 34 year-old self. I don’t know why it keeps happening, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t repeatedly happy to see him.
In the novel LIFE AFTER LIFE, Kate Atkinson offers us Ursula Todd, who is born in England in 1910, then either dies (choked by the umbilical cord) or lives (the doctor makes it through the snow to snip the cord) and dies later (falls off a roof), or lives, then dies a different way. Essentially we get to see variations on the theme of her life and the lives of everyone who comes into her orbit, including but not limited to her family, various friends and lovers, and Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler.
Atkinson creates the impression that we can rewind the tape and try again. A lousy marriage to an abusive man can be erased, replaced by first one lover (an admiral) then another (an architect), then back to the admiral. It might sound fantastical, but it actually works. Her genre-busting approach makes me wonder if we will see more texts like this in the future. I feel as though she’s revealed a new path, but left us more to explore.
And all along, it is fascinating to consider the parallel lives we might have led if we’d made different decisions.