The Risky Business of Time
A Review of Kate Atkinson's  ‘Life after Life’ 
by Kate Wilson


“Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn’t easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize. To begin with, for you to be here now, trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble themselves (…..) to create you (…..) in an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once. “
Bill Bryson[1]


Just to set the record straight, since the nature of Time is the inspirational idea behind the storyline of Kate Atkinson’s new book, Life after Life,  (or to be more precise, the central character, Ursula Todd’s idiosyncratic experience of Time during the course of her hapless multiple deaths and re-births),  I’d like to begin, in the manner of Bill Bryson, with a clear statement of what we all know, viz, that each of us has run a circa four billion year-long evolutionary gamut of risk and opportunity to be here and, however much we might lament it or deny it, we are here only once.

I mention this common knowledge in passing, because Kate Atkinson seems to have tapped into popular contemporary ideas about science, such as: we would all be able to travel back and forth in Time like her heroine, if only we understood Einsteinian physics better – wasn’t time-reversal hidden somewhere in his quantum equations, for instance? Similarly, with String Theory: didn’t that unleash the concept of the ‘Multiverse’ where we all have our own personal doppelgangers living alongside us in infinite parallel existences? 


Picture: Kate Atkinson at a book-signing in 2007.

[1] Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Doubleday, 2003, Introduction.

Clock animation: By Wyatt915 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons