I so loved Carys Bray’s debut novel A Song for Issy Bradley that I am thrilled and delighted to be part of the launch celebrations for Carys’s latest book The Museum of You. The Museum of You is published in hardback and e-book by Hutchinson, an imprint of Penguin Random House, on 16th June 2016 and is available from Amazon, Waterstones and all good bookshops.
Today I have a super guest post from Carys Bray and an extract from the book, after which you can read my review of The Museum of You.
The Museum of You
Clover Quinn was a surprise. She used to imagine she was the good kind, but 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 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 still 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 her 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.
A moving and surprisingly funny novel – The Independent
My Favourite Museums
A Guest Post by Carys Bray
In my new novel The Museum of You, twelve year old Clover Quinn sorts through her mother’s belongings and curates an exhibition in the second bedroom of the house she shares with her Dad, Darren.
As part of The Museum of You blog tour, I’m writing about some of my favourite museums. In recent months it has been frustrating to read of the museum closures which appear to be disproportionately affecting the north of England. Museums are a great place to learn about our heritage; they’re often a testament to the efforts and dedication of working people, the men and women who built and made many of the things we take for granted today.
This museum is right on the iconic Liverpool waterfront. Standing in the foyer is a bit like standing in an enormous, old tunnel. The lights hang from steel wires and the floor is cobbled in places. When the glass doors open and people step in and out of the building, you can hear seagulls squawking. Outside, tall ships and tugs float in the Albert and Canning Docks, on either side of the museum. You’re right in the middle of the story from the moment you arrive.
I visited the museum several times when I was writing The Museum of You. On one occasion I met with a curator who talked to me about her job. I learned that curators used to be called keepers, an apposite description for Clover’s Dad, Darren, who has kept all sorts of things in the second bedroom of their house.
My favourite objects are the models of ships. There used to be more but 60 of them were destroyed in the Blitz in 1941. The ships remind me of doll’s houses; I wish they could be opened up, allowing visitors to see their insides.
A particularly interesting and sad part of the exhibition deals with the fate of the Titanic. Below is a collection of things that were retrieved from the bottom of the sea. I stood and looked at these objects for a while. It’s amazing to think of their history: the optimism with which they were placed aboard the ship and their long, silent wait under water before they ended up in a display case in Liverpool.
The Albert dock area was revitalised when the Maritime Museum opened. The Tate Liverpool and the International Slavery Museum are right there, too. These repositories of history and art catalogue human achievements and abuses. They give us a sense of our place in the world, and help us to understand our human story. And that’s what Clover Quinn is looking for as she curates her museum; a way of learning more about her place in the world and the story of her birth.
The Museum of You – Excerpt
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.
My Review of The Museum of You
Clover is on the cusp between childhood and adulthood. Her father Darren does his best to make her happy as he balances life without Clover’s dead mother Becky, supporting his depressive brother in law Jim, working as a bus driver and visiting his father. When Clover decides to stage a museum exhibition in honour of her mother in the unused and junk ridden spare room, the results uncover a world of emotion and revelations she hasn’t bargained for.
I was apprehensive that second novel syndrome might affect Carys Bray after I so enjoyed her debut A Song for Issy Bradley, my review of which you can read here. However, The Museum of You is equally beautiful and compelling. Against a totally recognizable background of popular culture through music and television, Carys Bray weaves a tapestry of love, life and memory that would make any reader question the validity of their own memories and identity. I frequently found my throat tightening with tears and emotion as I read.
The juxtaposition of Darren’s story next to Clover’s gradually uncovers the truth of the past so that the reader experiences their lives deeply and affectingly. I was moved so often as Carys Bray has the ability to suggest a nuance that resonates on many, many levels with so many readers. There is a simplicity and a beauty to the writing that is just wonderful to read.
The characterisation is perfect. Mrs. Mackerel acts as light relief with her humorous malapropisms and Kelly seems realistic and warm, but the true stars are Darren and Clover. Their relationship reminded me of a kind of kaleidoscope, colourful and shifting and occasionally settling into perfection before life intervened and unsettled the patterns again.
I loved the metaphor for Clover’s childhood in the allotment as the summer moves into autumn and Clover grows up. I also adored the exploration of grief, of love and of the very essence of what makes us human that Carys Bray seems to convey so effortlessly.
I think readers who are looking for a contemporary writer with flair, talent and the ability to touch the soul will love Carys Bray. She is fast becoming one of my favourite writers. I cannot recommend The Museum of You highly enough.