Fran H-B and I shared a humourous moment when we all met for the day at Hardy's Cottage a while back.
Conversation over tea and cake at the end of the afternoon turned to books, as it always does, and as titles flew around the table Fran mentioned a book she had seen I was reading over in the sidebar >>>
'What about The Museum of You?' she asked.'You've read it and it sounds really good, I'm going to get hold of a copy of that.'
Unbeknown to Fran I had just handed her a copy, gift-wrapped and not to be opened until her birthday a few weeks ahead. I didn't want to sound too keen in case she rushed out and bought a copy, so I mumbled something vaguely positive but incoherent and the conversation moved on. In fact I had a feeling as I read that Fran would enjoy the book as much as I had, would warm to Darren Quinn and Becky and their daughter Clover and as I had done, wonder about the mysterious death of Becky just a few weeks after Clover's birth.
'Whenever you grow up in the saddest chapter of someone elses story, you're forever skating on the thin ice of their memories,' ponders the astute twelve-year-old Clover as the long summer holidays stretch ahead of her and she must find herself a project to keep her busy. Her dad Darren is a bus driver and a neighbour, the delightfully funny Mrs Mackerel, will keep an eye on Clover while he is at work. It is the Titanic exhibition in a museum in Liverpool that gives Clover the idea of setting up her own museum in her nearby home.
The silence of what has clearly been a tragedy slowly permeates the book. Becky, Clover's mum has died, Clover has no memory of her but the spare bedroom is stuffed-full with Becky's belongings, her life is there waiting for interpretation and it is from here that Clover decides to draw her exhibits. It will be a secret, a great big special surprise for her dad.
'Volume is not important, what she is looking for is essence, the undiluted bits...a collection of things that will provide her mother's flavour.'
And it becomes clear that the subject of Becky is never talked about because in Clover's mind 'she is incomplete, a half-written recipe.'
Darren meanwhile emerges as a wonderful single dad who almost tries too hard to get everything right for Clover and in his spare time makes clocks. The little cogs dotted around the narrative I saw as an indication of the passage of time and prefacing an explanation of the past, about what makes someone tick.
There were moments of real congruence in this book for me, ones that I feel sure many of you might recognise... those revelatory moments in your own life when events have helped towards an understanding of how our own parents might have felt in certain situations.
For Darren, after Clover's birth, comes that surge of love and responsibility ...what would happen to her if something happened to him, which brought with it an understanding of how his own parents must have felt when his mother was dying.
I had an epiphany moment when each of our children reached the age of twenty-four, the age my brother had been when he died of leukaemia. So wrapped up in my own grief at back in 1975 I couldn't possibly know what it felt like then to lose an adult child. Even contemplating it at any time once parenthood happened to me, but especially in those years of our own childrens' early twenties and I understood a little of what my parents had gone through, and why my mum especially never really recovered.
Clover's loss, the yawning gap in her life, is echoed, albeit differently, in the life of her melancholy yet optimistic school friend Dagmar who carries a satnav with her at all times and sets it to her home town of Uherske Hradiste 1925 miles away precisely. Loss can take so many different forms and Carys Bray pays attention to that.
So The Museum of You, for all that it sounds and should be a gloomy read, with its themes of grief and loss and tragedy and dealing with 'things' left behind and preserving memories, is quite the opposite. There is joy and laugh-aloud humour and you will absolutely want to sit and watch a film with Mrs Mackerel, who is hard of hearing and speaks in Upper Case.
She and Clover are watching Gravity, the Tunnocks tea cakes are flowing...
'SANDRA!' Mrs Mackerel shouts as the film reaches its climax. 'FIND THE EJACULATE BUTTON!'
I started to watch Gravity on the way to New Zealand and quickly realised it was a mistake to watch a film about someone floating around in space while you are flying through similar just a few thousand feet below
Laughs apart there is something deeply moving about Clover's innocent and usually misguided interpretations of her mother's 'things'. They reveal what she wants and needs to believe and what she hopes for in creating an image of the mother she has never known and this is all cleverly juxtaposed by Cerys Bray, with the reality explained to the reader in those cog-marked flashbacks. Slowly the details about Becky's life create the bigger picture.
Ultimately I turned the final page of The Museum of You feeling uplifted and satisfied that I read a really special and original book.