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Kate Atkinson – Life After Life

When were you happiest? This is one of those questions that pop up in celebrity questionnaires in weekend colour supplements. The answers are fairly predictable or, at least, the variation in the replies is quite limited. (An alternative question – when were you unhappiest? – would elicit, I reckon, a far greater range of responses. But who would dare ask it?)

We can all look back and pinpoint our happiest times. In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, Clarissa could identify ‘the most exquisite moment of her whole life.’ And that moment was fleeting.

Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist

Kate Atkinson plies her craft in Life After Life, to show how lives can swing between misery and happiness almost on a whim, on a chance event, on a minor decision, say, to set our earlier, rather than later, to meet someone at a train station. Her story is forever retracing itself as her characters ‘revisit’ the same events, responding differently each time and thus precipitating vastly different outcomes. It’s no surprise that the novel is on the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Read more