Review published on May 5, 2016.
Despite not having read A Song for Issy Bradley (I know), I fell on the rather beautiful proof of Carys Bray’s new novel, The Museum of You. Having heard such good things about Issy Bradley I was interested in how not having read the hit debut first might affect my interpretation of it – in that a good review would be entirely unbiased, maybe? In any case, I am so glad I snaffled it from the ceiling-high piles of review books at nb HQ because I’m happy to confirm it is a strong contender (OK – a dead cert) for my best books of 2016.
Clover Quinn lives with bus driver dad Darren in a cluttered, unfinished house where things are held on to ‘just in case’ but nothing ever seems to change. Clover knows that the spare room contains things belonging to her mother and following a school trip to the Titanic exhibition in Liverpool is inspired to catalogue and display them as a tribute and, ultimately, a surprise for her dad. During the summer holidays she divides her time between doing this and visiting their allotment and it is the care-taking element of both, along with Darren’s anxiety about leaving Clover on her own while he works, that give the novel its major theme.
As Clover works her way through the mix of junk and personal possessions realising how little she has been told about her mother, she creates her own family history deciding for herself what is important and what can be discarded, while dad Darren worries not only about his daughter spending too much time on her own but about his erratic brother-in-law and his own widower father. Alternating between both their points of view the heartbreaking story of Clover’s mother slowly unfolds, building to the inevitable climax that will either break them or finally enable them to move forward.
Although slow I found it perfectly paced, allowing each and every character to be seen, heard and felt and creating a subtle but authentic sense of time and place. I appreciate working class life novels like this (see also The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon for another good example) that don’t become bogged down in bleakness and hardship – yes, it is there but there is also a great deal of humour and joy and community, which is incredibly uplifting and much more credible on a day to day level. The next door neighbour, Mrs Mackerel, is a lovely touch, hilarious and unwittingly wise, and Clover’s growing understanding of the grown-up world around her is touching and recognisable.
This really is a beautifully written story, nowhere near as sentimental as you might think but carefully and lovingly crafted with a generous dose of warmth and compassion. Carys Bray is a very good writer and one to continue watching.
Highly recommended – and yes, I will now be reading A Song for Issy Bradley!
The Museum of You by Carys Bray, published by Hutchinson on 16 June, in hardback at £12.99