Google the phrase “go back in time and,” and the search engine will suggest completing the phrase with a simple directive: “kill Hitler.” The appeal of murdering the Nazi dictator is so great that it has its own subgenre within speculative fiction, a trope known as “Hitler’s murder paradox” in which a time traveler journeys back far enough to nip the leader — and World War II — in the bud, typically with unexpected consequences.
Kate Atkinson, the very talented English novelist, is the most recent writer to try her hand at offing the führer. The result, “Life After Life,” is a thoroughly entertaining, periodically moving read, and a wholly unique addition to that canon. Although the novel’s prelude finds the heroine confronting Hitler with her father’s World War I service revolver, the number of pages Atkinson devotes to her deadly objective are minimal. “Life After Life” spends more time investigating the ways in which war affects the lives of one middle-class English family than it does on global power dynamics.