The central character of the story is Ursula, who is born right at the start of the book on a snowy night in 1910. Sadly, the snow delays the doctor and Ursula dies during the birth. We turn the page and Ursula is born again, and this time the doctor has made it through the snow and saves her. This pattern is repeated throughout the book as Ursula lives and dies and lives again. This structure could be off-putting, but the skill and quality of the writing makes it an immensely successful book.
I feel I grew to know Ursula intimately (much more so than I generally would in the course of a book) and the other people in the story are equally well drawn. The story takes place over the years running up to the First World War, the inter-war period, through World War Two and beyond. I have never read a book which so eloquently made me understand a little of the experience of living through war. The book is clearly very thoroughly researched but the reader is never beaten over the head with it, every detail feels natural and unforced.
Please, please add this to your reading list right away, it is one of the best books I’ve ever read.