This novel by Carys Bray starts with a wonderful description of twelve-year-old Clover watering her father’s allotment on a hot summer’s day. It is the beginning of the summer holidays and it is the first time she has her own front door key and is allowed out on her own. I smelt the dust, could see the shimmering heat and feel the cool of the water splashing from the tap.
It is not a book in which a lot happens; rather it is a sensitive portrait of a single father and his daughter and how the past refuses to be ignored.
After a school trip to the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool, Clover decides her holiday project will be to curate an exhibit of her mother. She has no memories of her mum, who died soon after Clover was born, and her father never talks about the past. Clover never used to mind about this, not wanting to press him and cause distress. But now, poised on the edge of womanhood, her curiosity mounts. And so she ventures into the spare bedroom, a repository of the unwanted and unused. Amongst the piles of old clothes and broken things, she discovers objects which enchant her, things which belonged to her mother. From these pieces she compiles a picture of the mother she never knew.
What follows is an enchanting tale of a motherless girl, her bus driver father, neighbour Mrs Mackerel (what a great name), grandfather and unpredictable Uncle Jim. It took me quite a while to sort out who is who. We see Clover’s life through the lens of her childlike but observant eyes, balanced by the story of her father Darren who feels the daily struggle of a man raising a daughter alone: how to tie a towel turban on her head, what to tell her about boyfriends. It is a very real story about an ordinary family, touching but sometimes caustic, funny and believable. It could be a mawkish read about long-term grief, but Clover energises the story. Her family is surviving, despite the difficulties it faces. Darren’s sections tells us the truth about the things Clover finds, which makes some of her museum exhibits so poignant. I loved the scenes between Clover and schoolfriend Dagmar at the allotment, though Mrs Mackerel’s malapropisms became a little wearing towards the end.
‘The Museum of You’ by Carys Bray [UK: Hutchinson] Buy at Amazon
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