I fell for Carys Bray’s writing when I read her debut novel A Song for Issy Bradley, which did brilliantly, garnering much deserved praise. I wondered how she would follow it up with her second The Museum of You.
Twelve year old Clover has been brought up by her Dad, Darren, a bus driver, after her Mum died when she was just six weeks old. Her Mum, Becky, met her Dad when she left her handbag on his route.
Over the summer which ‘curls around her like a yellow cat’ Clover is left to her own devices whilst Darren has to work to support them. He worries about whether he is doing a good enough job, as well as worrying about his own Dad, who is on his own, and his brother, Jim who is ‘not himself.’
At an end of term visit to the local Merseyside Maritime museum, Clover is fascinated by the main exhibit telling the ‘untold story’ of The Titanic, through retrieved objects.One of the museum curators about how they chose which objects to display who tells her, “It’s all about which objects fit the narratives we’re telling.” Her idea is born. She will do the same with her mother’s things and will display it all for her Dad as a surprise, like, she says, one of those TV makeover shows.
Her dead mother’s things, are still all piled up untouched in a room. Her Dad, who keeps everything anyway in case it comes in handy, has been unable to deal emotionally with any of it. There’s baby teeth, holiday brochures, a book on the painter Rubens, a Winnie the Pooh book with an inscription in blue biro that reads ‘Love from Mummy xxx’ and she indexes and catalogues it all.
Clover imbues each object with meaning, fantasising and guessing, trying to find out more about her mother and in turn, the missing half of herself. It is only gradually, through Darren’s narration, that we see the true meaning of those objects and it doesn’t match at all. Some of the stories behind them are achingly sad. On another level, it could be read as how we all try to make sense of things, look for a pattern, a meaning in the randomness of life.
Bray captures so well that strange time between childhood and adolescence and the relationship between Clover and her Dad is beautifully portrayed. I loved all the little rituals they had – thinking of three things that made her happy before bedtime, Clover making a biscuit Stonehenge held together by Biscoff spread after watching Bake Off on TV and her Dad judging her efforts on whether it was a ‘good bake’. She makes friends with Dagmar, the immigrant girl at school who no one will talk to or sit next to, and there is added comedy provided by the neighbour, a modern day Mrs Malaprop, Edna Mackerel, who talks mainly in CAPS.
I found The Museum of You with the determined, imaginative, nurturing, resilient Clover at its heart, to be a fundamentally optimistic book about love and hope and community told with warmth and compassion. At times like these, we all need these qualities in our lives.
I’m part of the blog tour for The Museum of You. Do go and check out the past and future entries. There’s lots of great stuff and this book deserves every success.