1. a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
2. something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form
“On a cold and snowy night in 1920, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.”
Not everyone will like this novel’s inventive structure, which plays with the possibilities of infinite chances, but I loved it. The author writes beautifully and uses this unique literary device to great effect. It’s as if the story is on tape and someone hits the rewind button and the same scenario plays out again, but with a slight twist that makes a huge difference. I found this toying with the “what-ifs” both fascinating and captivating and never tiresome. The Todd family was hugely entertaining and became so familiar because of the repetitions and viewing them from different angles. Towards the end of the book, the term palimpsest is mentioned in passing. I did have to look it up, and found the definition an elegant description of this very book. Very clever indeed.
I think I will indulge my impulse to just carry right on with the Todds in A God in Ruins, not exactly a sequel but a companion novel. It is about Ursula’s younger brother Teddy, a minor character in Life After Life. Teddy is the subject of their eccentric auntie’s children’s books, and a sweet and gentle soul. How he ends up as a fighter pilot in the war is unclear, as is what actually happened when his plane went down in flames and he was presumed dead.