In this era of downloads and internet shopping, more and more people are deprived of the joy of browsing through racks of cds, looking for bargains, surprises, or just that special recording.

Grove Music, downstairs at The Grove Bookshop, offers a wide range of classical new releases, jazz on cd and vinyl, and a back catalogue of classic recordings in folk, jazz, classical and rock music. Rediscover the joy of browsing in our cosy basement shop.


Book Review - Life After Life

Mon 3rd Mar 14

Kate Atkinson burst onto the literary stage with her debut novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, in which the adventures and ruminations of Ruby Lennox took readers on a refreshingly new sort of journey. Two more novels and a collection of short stories followed before she hit on the character of Jackson Brodie, whose quirky investigations brought her work to an even wider audience. With Brodie having reached our television screens, she has at last returned to the wry, moving, experimental style which brought her to our notice all those years ago; in my opinion it is not a moment too soon.

Life After Life follows the fortunes of Ursula Todd, born in the middle of a snowstorm on 11th February 1910. In a more predictable book we would follow her life through the twentieth century, seeing events unfold in a panorama of history, but this is a Kate Atkinson novel, so predictions are risky things to attempt; instead, within minutes, our heroine has died, despite having appeared in the prologue as a grown woman. This is just one of several occasions on which Ursula’s demise, and those of other characters, is postulated, enacted and then refuted, as she survives in an alternative existence to take a different path. She is born into a vaguely bohemian Edwardian household packed with memorable characters; her mother, Sylvie, who “would quite happily live in Liberty’s,” her reserved but loving father Hugh, and the servants, bubbly, no-nonsense Bridget and the formidable housekeeper, Mrs Glover, who gets some of the best lines. Several of these characters survive a brush with death as alternative scenarios develop; each putative ending is introduced by a phrase beginning “Darkness fell,” and Atkinson is witty enough to acknowledge the repetitive nature of these occurrences, on one occasion merely writing “Darkness etc.”

So Ursula has several opportunities to live, but she seems also to live a series of lives; each episode appears to be separate, so her childhood, her time in Germany (where she may or may not have the chance to assassinate Hitler) and her experience of the London Blitz could almost belong to different books, but somehow the disjointed aspects of the story hold together purely because of Atkinson’s skill and eccentricity.

Life After Life examines what goes into making a life, how our families, childhoods, choices and the randomness of fate contribute to what we become, and it is often the case that the earliest memories are the clearest. Like Ruby in Behind the Scenes, Ursula is able to take us right into the centre of events, so we experience the snows of an Edwardian winter, the horrors of aerial bombardment and the pangs of childhood trauma. The book’s central theme is simple but complex; it is birth, death, and everything that comes between, experienced in different ways by different people, frightening in its intensity and its fragility. Kate Atkinson’s writing is by turns witty, ruthless, playful and perceptive, and she holds our attention to the very end.

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