In February 1910, Ursula Todd dies just as she is being born. Reborn, she survives infancy to drown as a toddler. Over her many lives, Ursula is murdered, dies in the London Blitz, freezes to death, and commits suicide. In each successive life, Ursula’s decisions and actions follow a different path that winds through many of the most important historical events of the first half of the 20th century. Although repetitive and difficult to follow at first, Atkinson’s Groundhog Day inspired story is an inventive and enthralling way of recounting the lives of the upper middle class in Great Britain during the world wars.
In much of the book, Atkinson focuses on Ursula’s lives during World War II and the Blitz. In one life, Ursula dies from a bomb in the basement of an apartment house in London. In another, Ursula, working as volunteer in the Civil Defense Service, rescues her (now unknown) neighbors from the same house. In yet another life, Ursula becomes a German citizen, spends time (reluctantly) with Eva Braun at Berghof, and dies amidst the ruins of Berlin in 1945.
A young, withdrawn Ursula visits a psychiatrist, who tells her that she may be remembering other lives: “time is a construct, in reality everything flows, no past or present, only the now.” Common threads – a murdered girl, a dog Lucky – emerge in many of Ursula’s lives, as she begins to piece together her place (or places) in a life of unlimited choices and their consequences.
The story’s unconventional formal structure, coupled with Ursula’s enchanting narration, has produced a brilliant book that will stick with you – a must read!
Availability: SMCM Library and USMAI
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Must Read