Today is my stop on The Museum of You blog tour and I’m thrilled to be sharing my review of this wonderful book along with an excerpt from the the book.
About the Book
Clover Quinn was a surprise. She used to imagine she was the good kind, now she’s not sure. She’d like to ask Dad about it, but growing up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story is difficult. She tries not to skate on the thin ice of his memories.
Darren has done his best. He’s studied his daughter like a seismologist on the lookout for waves and surrounded her with everything she might want – everything he can think of, at least – to be happy.
What Clover wants is answers. This summer, she thinks she can find them in the second bedroom, which is full of her mother’s belongings. Volume isn’t important, what she is looking for is essence; the undiluted bits: a collection of things that will tell the full story of her mother, her father and who she is going to be.
But what you find depends on what you’re searching for.
I’m a huge fan of Carys Bray – I adored her first novel A Song of Issy Bradley so was beyond excited when Carys offered me the chance to read and review The Museum of You.
The Museum of You is a quiet novel but it is so beautifully moving. It’s told in alternating chapters between Clover and her dad, Darren, and then between the chapter breaks there is a page about an item that Clover is planning to show in her museum. These pages, and her innocence, were some of the most stunning moments in the novel. Things like the way Clover envisages her mum collection holiday brochures because she must have loved holidays broke me because reading this through adult eyes, it seemed that really Clover’s mum probably was just desperate for escape. It’s a cleverly written novel because we don’t know at the beginning what happened to Clover’s mum but as the novel goes on we learn bits and pieces and a picture emerges but Clover, as a child, fits the pieces together in a much more naive way. It’s so beautiful and is a real tear jerker.
I adored Clover throughout this novel. She’s such a big-hearted and intelligent girl. She loves museums and finding out about things and so when she discovers that all of her mum’s things are still stashed in her bedroom Clover forms an idea to make a museum of her mum. It’s such a gorgeous idea and so heartbreaking at the same time. I cried so much as Clover carefully put on gloves and started to carefully, and strategically work through her mum’s belongings – all done when her dad was out so that he wouldn’t know about it and get upset. I know it’s a slightly different thing but I remember having to sort out my mum’s possessions after she died and having the longing to keep everything as it was left but knowing I had to let most of it go, and I was an adult at the time. For a child to not really know about her mum, or really understand what happened to her, to then approach her mum’s things on her own is really sad. I loved how pr0-active Clover was though, she knew that she couldn’t ask anyone about her mum as the best she got was a slow drip feed of information from her neighbour Mrs Mackerel and so she decided to become an archivist and figure it all out herself. I love how matter of fact Clover is – she’s a real thinker but she gets on with things. She doesn’t dwell on how her life has ended up, she just keeps moving forward. I think we all need a Clover in our lives!
I cried quite a few times whilst reading as there are sentences in this novel that just make your heart break for Clover. A line that got me, which is in the excerpt below was ‘When you grow up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story you’re forever skating on the thin ice of their memories.’ – I had to pause for a few minutes after reading that because it is just utterly heartbreaking. For a young child to know that their childhood is so linked in with the saddest part of her mum and dad’s life together is just so hard to think about, but also it made my heart break for her dad who has had to live with the happiest and saddest times in his life overlapping in such a tough way.
Darren is doing the absolute best he can to raise his daughter, it’s so evident that he loves her more than anything and is trying to give her a good life but it feels that as Clover is growing up, he is burying his head in the sand a little. It must be so hard for men to deal with raising a daughter alone, especially as they reach puberty and there is no female role model in their life. He knows there are things Clover will want to know beyond the basic lessons he can teach her and he’s really floundering as to how he will get her through the teenage years and beyond. He knows Clover needs her mum, and needs to know about her mum but you can feel his hesitation and his need to skate around it for his own wellbeing. He seems like such a lovely man who is simply left so lost after his partner died. I felt the longing that he had to not let his partner’s memory go but also his desire to form a stable home life for Clover. It is apparent very early on in the novel that Darren is something of a hoarder – it really felt like he was someone who was just desperately trying to cling on, to keep things right for Clover and to be a good dad. It felt to me like Clover was very much like her dad in wanting to keep things but Clover is much more organised, hence her museum idea. Reading about when Darren was younger and seeing how simple his life was, with two parents who were still together and who obviously loved him very much and did their best by him, it is obvious that he is badly wanting this for his daughter too – ‘life [back then] was ordinary, unremarkable and occasionally boring. It was, looking back, wonderful’.
This novel builds as it goes along – the more you read the more you put the pieces together and the more you get a sense of heartbreak for what this family have been through. I had such sympathy with just about all of the characters in this novel, they had all had tough times in their lives and were all muddling through as best they can. It is apparent that the thing that defined them all and kept them connected was their love for Clover, and as the novel headed towards the end, I was hoping there would be some sort of happy ending for them all. Life isn’t perfect and bad things happen to lovely people but this novel gives us such a great reminder that life goes on and things will get better with time and openness.
It’s such a wonderfully profound novel. I rated it 5 out of 5 and can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s one of those quiet novels that packs such a punch emotionally; it’s so beautiful and is one that will stay with me for a long time to come. Simply wonderful!
Excerpt of the novel
When she got home from the museum Dad was kneeling in the hall. He’d unscrewed the radiator and his thumb was pressed over an unfastened pipe as water gushed around it. The books and clothes and newspapers that used to line the hall had been arranged in small piles on the stairs. Beside him, on the damp carpet, was a metal scraper he’d been using to scuff the paper off the wall.
‘Just in time!’ he said. ‘Fetch a bowl. A small one, so it’ll fit.’
She fetched two and spent the next fifteen minutes running back and forth to the kitchen emptying one bowl as the other filled, Dad calling, ‘Faster! Faster! Keep it up, Speedy Gonzalez!’ His trousers were soaked and his knuckles grazed, but he wasn’t bothered. ‘Occupational hazard,’ he said, as if it wasn’t his day off and plumbing and stripping walls was his actual job.
Once the pipe had emptied he stood up and hopped about for a bit while the feeling came back into his feet. ‘I helped Colin out with something this morning,’ he said. ‘The people whose house we were at had this dado rail thing – it sounds posh, but it’s just a bit of wood, really – right about here.’ He brushed his hand against the wall beside his hip. ‘Underneath it they had stripy wallpaper, but above it they had a different, plain kind. It was dead nice and I thought, we could do that.’
Dad found a scraper for her. The paint came off in flakes, followed by tufts of the thick, textured wallpaper. Underneath, was a layer of soft, brown, backing-paper which Dad sprayed with water from a squirty bottle. When the water had soaked in, they made long scrapes down the wall, top to bottom, leaving the backing paper flopped over the skirting boards like ribbons of skin. It felt like they were undressing the house.
The bare walls weren’t smooth. They were gritty, crumbly in places. As they worked, a dusty smell wafted out of them. It took more than an hour to get from the front door to the wall beside the bottom stair. That’s where Dad uncovered the heart. It was about as big as Clover’s hand, etched on the wall in black, permanent marker, in Dad’s handwriting: Darren + Becky 4ever.
‘I’d forgotten,’ he murmured. And then he pulled his everything face. The face he pulls when Uncle Jim is drunk. The face he pulls when they go shopping in March and the person at the till tries to be helpful by reminding them about Mother’s Day. The face which reminds her that a lot of the time his expression is like a plate of leftovers.
She didn’t say anything, and although she wanted to, she didn’t trace the heart with her fingertips. Instead, she went up to the bathroom and sat on the boxed, pre-lit Christmas tree dad bought in the January sales. When you grow up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story you’re forever skating on the thin ice of their memories. That’s not to say it’s always sad – there are happy things, too. When she was a baby Dad had a tattoo of her name drawn on his arm in curly, blue writing, and underneath he had a green, four-leaf clover. She has such a brilliant name, chosen by her mother because it has the word LOVE in the middle. That’s not the sort of thing you go around telling people, but it is something you can remember if you need a little boost; an instant access, happiness top-up card – it even works when Luke Barton calls her Margey-rine. Clover thought of her name and counted to 300.
When she went downstairs Dad had recovered his empty face and she couldn’t help asking a question, just a small one.
‘Is there any more writing under the paper?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘She didn’t do a heart as well?’
‘Help me with this, will you?’
They pulled the soggy ribbons of paper away from the skirting and put them in a bin bag. The house smelled different afterwards. As if some old sadness had leaked out of the walls.
About the Author
Carys Bray’s debut collection Sweet Home won the Scott prize and selected stories were broadcast on BBC Radio Four Extra. Her first novel A Song for Issy Bradley was serialised on BBC Radio Four’s Book at Bedtime and was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards, the Association of Mormon Letters Awards, the Waverton Good Read Award, the 15 Bytes Book Awards and the Desmond Elliott Prize. It won the Utah Book Award and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and was selected for the 2015 Richard and Judy Summer Book Club.
Carys has a BA in Literature from The Open University and an MA and PhD in Creative Writing from Edge Hill University. Her second novel The Museum of You will be published in June 2016. She is working on a third novel.
You can follow the rest of The Museum of You blog tour at the dates and blogs below: