4 1/2 stars. It took me a while to get through this book (thank you, work; thank you, school) and also a while to get around to reviewing it... It was an enjoyable read. I really liked Atkinson's writing style, her vocabulary, and most of all the way she draws characters. Although this book is over 500 pages long, it definitely didn't feel like it to me (it took so long to get through because I had so much other stuff going on, not because of any drag in the book!).
I kind of rolled my eyes at the opening of the book, a scene that depicts the of a murder of "the Fuhrer," thinking that the whole "go-back-and-kill-Hitler" thing would predominate. But it didn't, really. And actually I was quite relieved when killing Hitler wasn't the "end," that it showed Ursula being born yet again. I know other readers have expressed frustration--"what was the point?!" But honestly I'm more satisfied with the lack of a nice, pat little ending with a bow on top. I feel like if it had ended with killing Hitler, it would've been a little too...saccharine? Moralizing? How-awesome!!-also-it's-totally-Ursula's-responsibility-to-tailor-her-life-to-stopping-people-from-being-assholes-...-even-though-guess-what-bad-shit-still-happens-no-matter-how-much-a-single-person-does (but then I don't really buy into the "great man" theory). Also I just think it makes it a bit deeper to not have it end there--I mean, why should it? It never ended with any of her other deaths. Which of Ursula's lives in the "real" life? Will she ever be released from the endless rebirths? Are the other people living over and over again as well yet she's unique in remembering glimpses? If not, which of her takes is their "real" life? Readers would get any of those fun questions if Atkinson had just made it some hokey "your mission is to kill Hitler."
I also thought Atkinson did a pretty good job handling rape and its effects. In one of her lives, Ursula is raped and ends up pregnant and she blames herself, her mother blames her (and basically stops loving her/becomes nasty toward her), and because she's traumatized and withdraws afterward she ends up with an extremely violent abuser... I mean, I'm pretty nitpicky about this, so there are little things I would've changed, but overall it captures potential consequences of rape and who is and is not accountable--it's basically an accurate representation of rape culture, although I wish there was a bit more done through narration, plot, or characters' responses to disavow it. In another instance(s) that I thought were less well handled, a neighbor is raped & murdered and again we see the "oh it's all my fault" on the part of people whose fault it is not, and all these "what ifs" about if-I-just-been-five-minutes-earlier, if-I-had-walked-with-her, if-someone-walked-me-home, if-I-fought-him-off, and while I understand that these are totally normal reactions to the situation, I didn't feel like enough energy was actually directed to the root of it. Where was the what-if-the-murder/rapist-wasn't-a-murderer/rapist? Maybe Atkinson was trying to show that it really doesn't matter what the victim was doing, but it wasn't really the impression I got.
Anyway, overall I quite enjoyed it. It gives you a lot to think about--how the world we live in is just one of many possible worlds. It didn't completely blow me away (which is why I'm withholding the last half-star--jeez, I'm stingy!), though I do think Atkinson is worth reading again.