Last night I finished Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. My non-reading friends were impressed at its length (529 pages) and couldn't imagine devoting the time to something so long. Then again, they don't read (I can't imagine a life without books!). I was drawn to this book because of the hints given on reincarnation, that the main character dies and is reborn again and again. In the strictest sense this is exactly what happens, but my take isn't that it's reincarnation, rather, it's an exploration into parallel universes.
To my mind, reincarnation is when a person lives a life as, say, a man who works in a machine shop, gets married and has three kids. He dies at the ripe old age of 81 and then, at his next incarnation, he experiences a life where he's an accountant with a gambling addiction, or a woman at the turn of the century. Different family, different circumstances, different body. What happens in Life After Life, though, is that we see how Ursula Todd's life would've turned out if B had happened instead of A, if G and H happen instead of A, etc. We see how all the different choices play out; if one were to take the path on the right instead of the path on the left. It's a very interesting experiment.
I did have some trouble getting into the narrative, though, and almost bailed not once but twice. It was around the 100 page mark before I really felt engaged - a long time to expect the reader to hang on. Part of this, for me, might be that I don't usually go for historical fiction. But some of the most interesting story lines and character experiences occurred during the bombings of WWII, both from the perspective of London and Germany. The other part was that seemingly all the rules were broken: multiple POVs within the same chapter and sometimes within the same paragraph. This, in particular, was hard for me to get past. I'm glad I stuck with it... I found that it grew on me, that I came to really know Ursula Todd and all her many sides/lives.