When you grow up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story, you’re forever skating on the thin ice of their memories.
Grief. It’s all pervasive and its repercussions are felt throughout the generations, even to those newly born as tragedy strikes.
This is only too true for Clover, almost twelve, who has lived under the cloud of her mother’s death since she was only six weeks old. A ‘surprise’ to both her parents, her well-meaning father, Darren, has tried to protect his daughter from any further unhappiness.
His reluctance to talk about his wife, Becky, is clear to sharp-minded Clover. She sees her father’s deep sorrow and fear when she raises the topic with him, and he replies with the oft repeated sound-bites, sharing only minimal information about her mother.
On the cusp of teenage years, Clover becomes desperate to break through the palpable dark shadow of her life and learn more about her elusive mother. However…
…she has recently become attuned to the way Dad takes the temperature of her mood and attempts to chart it. He’ll stop once she smiles – a small smile isn’t enough, it takes all her teeth to convince, and even then he sometimes inspects her expression like a worried dentist.
In her attempt to get to know her mother, Clover recreates Becky’s life from her belongings, which have long since been stored with other junk in the seldom entered second bedroom.
This was her mother’s room. This was her mother’s view. These are her mother’s shoes. She teeters over to the crowded space at the end of the bed, back and forth she treads, back and forth and back and forth as if eventually, she might step into her mother’s life.
As Clover experiences the first independent summer holiday, she is inspired by the school visit to Merseyside Maritime Museum exhibition about the Titanic, to create her own museum about her mother, with a special exhibition in the second bedroom entitled ‘Becky Brookfield – The Untold Story’.
The descriptions of the various items recovered from the boxes and suitcases in the second bedroom punctuate the two viewpoints of the story, with each exhibit clearly named, logged and its history guessed at (often wrongly).
As the poignant and moving story unfolds, the reader gradually learns the reasons for Darren’s reticence and the patchwork of sorrow and guilt permeates the book.
Clover’s courage, keen observation, and emotional intelligence is strongly portrayed throughout the novel; not only through her relationship with her father but also with her kindly, loud, and older neighbour Mrs Mackerel, who has often helped care for her.
Darren is a brilliantly crafted character; flawed, slightly rough. He’s an academic at heart, whose passionate interest and intent to study geography at university was cut short by his own mother’s illness and death in his teens.
As Darren’s father effectively withdrew from life, silence filled the gap of his mother’s former presence. After losing Becky, Darren once again experiences intense grief as he is ‘poleaxed by the old ache of missing her (Becky)’.
Despite her Uncle Jim’s chaotic life, Clover accepts him with the same unreserved love as her mother had. Meanwhile, further characters become as family. This includes Colin, the odd but stalwart friend from school who is a constant presence in Darren’s life.
There is also the outsider Dagmar, who becomes an unexpected friend to Clover. And finally, her father’s female friend, Kelly; and her two young sons. Ultimately they all become closely linked, caring for each and showing that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
The novel is written through two narrative strands, that of Clover and Darren. Both are in the close third person perspective; and the author’s deftness and skill ensure that each voice is distinctive, and is easy to relate to each character. The sense of immediacy is achieved by the use of present tense for current day events, which slides into the past tense for the story of Darren and Becky’s earlier life.
The Museum of You is written with a unique form of whimsical realism, the grittiness of life interlaced with the magical recreation of Becky’s life in the form a one room museum.
The themes of love and relationship between parents and children is explored throughout the book. The book also explores the relationship between Becky and her damaged younger brother, Jim, who grew up in a traumatic household.
Locations feature heavily in the book, particularly as Darren has never left the area he grew up in. As a bus driver, he commutes back and forth between Liverpool and Manchester; recalling the street names, homes, allotment, sights, and sounds. These quickly become familiar to the reader, as the events of his past unravels in a veritable stream of consciousness.
In places the novel can seem to be meandering, and some might consider the pace too slow. Personally, I was captivated by the unfurling of the story; the shifting perspectives; the varying tenses; the excellent dialogue and museum details, providing an engrossing, thought-provoking, memorable read.
At no stage did the book become mawkish or morbid. Rather, it’s a seductive tale, tenderly told and overall enchanting with a perfect feel-good factor for the summer holidays!
I received a free copy of this book from the NetGalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Publisher: Random House UK
Originally published on Annika Perry’s Blog. Edited and re-formatted for republishing on black CATastrophy.
About the Reviewer
Annika Perry was born in Sweden, and moved to the UK at six years old. She is a journalist turned fiction writer, who is in the process of completing her debut novel. You can find her at Annika Perry’s Writing Blog.