The Museum of Broken Promises…
About the Book:
The stunning new novel from bestselling Elizabeth Buchan. The Museum of Broken Promises is a beautiful, evocative love story and heart-breaking journey in to a long-buried past.
Paris, today. The Museum of Broken Promises is a place of wonder and sadness, hope and loss. Every object in the museum has been donated – a cake tin, a wedding veil, a baby’s shoe. And each represent a moment of grief or terrible betrayal. The museum is a place where people come to speak to the ghosts of the past and, sometimes, to lay them to rest. Laure, the owner and curator, has also hidden artefacts from her own painful youth amongst the objects on display.
Prague, 1985. Recovering from the sudden death of her father, Laure flees to Prague. But life behind the Iron Curtain is a complex thing: drab and grey yet charged with danger. Laure cannot begin to comprehend the dark, political currents that run beneath the surface of this communist city. Until, that is, she meets a young dissident musician. Her love for him will have terrible and unforeseen consequences.
It is only years later, having created the museum, that Laure can finally face up to her past and celebrate the passionate love which has directed her life.
I seem to have inadvertently picked the busiest fortnight of my whole year in which to read this novel and it’s actually taken me almost the whole fortnight to read it, which is normally unheard of for me. It’s not even that long either, only 400 pages, but it’s kind of become the book that never ends which unfortunately hasn’t worked in its favour. I did have quite high hopes for this novel as I have been doing a lot of reading around the Cold War era, as you might have noticed, and this one was next on my radar to fit in with that theme.
Overall, I think I this novel had, for me, a rather clinical and slightly detached narrative. There were a lot of conversations between people that were nothing more than passages of historical fact dumping, leading to a distinct lack of the type of natural exchange that you should have with dialogue. And while dialogue can sometimes be a really good way for an author to slip in those historical facts that they feel are important to their story, some of the conversations within this novel had exact dates and events being listed by verbatim in a way that was very unnatural and not in any way resembling a normal conversation that you may have with somebody over dinner or in passing, or, to be perfectly honest, in any way at all. This certainly pulled me out of the story a fair bit.
The other thing that I found which didn’t really work was the multiple timelines. The blurb on the back gives an indication that there are two timelines: Paris in the present day and Prague in 1985, however, there is also another timeline that begins around about the halfway mark through the novel, which is really quite a long way in for a new timeline to begin. This one is set in Berlin in 1996. I did struggle with this section, and while it shed a bit of light on the other two sections in terms of filling in some of the gaps and linking up the past with the present, I actually really didn’t like the way that Laure, the main character, acted within this timeline. Much of the way she conducted herself didn’t sit well with me at all. I don’t even know if this entire timeline was really necessary, it did seem to pull me out of the story and it was a long time before I went back to Paris in the present day. By the time I finally did, after being in Prague in 1985 and Berlin in 1996 for so long, I had completely lost track of what was happening back in Paris today. So there’s a couple of structural things there that pulled me out of the story and compounded that detached aspect I mentioned above.
I had issues with the plausibility of Laurie being in Prague in the first place. Much was made of how her boss was so high up in ‘The Party’, and how that was why he had permission to bring a British au pair into Prague in the first place. But it still didn’t ring true for me. I just seemed like too much of a risk to have her there and in the end the treatment that she was subjected to after being arrested was a definite political risk for the Prague authorities. She was a British citizen. There was a lot about that whole situation that just didn’t sit right with me. My other issue with this novel – and yes, I know I’m starting to sound like a big whiner right now – was a particular quote within the Berlin 1996 timeline, where we hear about the ‘Puzzle Women’ who were putting together all of the shredded fragments from the Stasi’s attempt to destroy their records at the time of the collapse of the GDR. Now, I have just read this novel on the back of Confession with Blue Horses, which as you may all remember, was a truly brilliant read for me and that went into a lot of depth about this exact information. The quote in question is actually inaccurate:
“In the new democratic dawn, these had to be investigated and teams of ‘Puzzle Women’ patrolled long tables on which were arranged thousands and thousands of paper fragments from which they were bidden to construct a new story of Germany from the old ones.”
This is not the case. It’s not about constructing a new story, it’s about putting together the actual truths of what happened, so that people can find out the fate of their loved ones, can get some sort of closure and intelligence about the parts of their family history that has been stolen from them. This is definitely a sensitivity issue, and one that I may not have even picked up on if it wasn’t for having read Confession with Blue Horses so recently. It really didn’t sit very well with me as I felt like this passage was a dismissal of the hugely important work that is still being undertaken in the course righting so many wrongs. Sometimes, it’s better to just not go there if you aren’t going to treat a sensitive subject with the utmost respect.
Overall, this novel was engaging, and I feel like I’m just listing issue after issue with it, but I was kind of anticipating a five star read and only ended up with a three star one. Despite my many quibbles, I still wanted to know what was happening to Laure as for the most part, I genuinely liked her. I was rather fascinated by her museum of broken promises. The idea of it was unique and the stories behind it intriguing, and of course there was the whole fact that it had been built from the foundations of Laure’s own broken promise. It’s the sort of museum I would make a point of visiting.
“These objects invite you to the edge of an abyss and urge you to look over.”
One thing I particularly enjoyed was all the information about the marionette puppets. I really liked that aspect of Czech culture that was woven into the story and I kind of got right into the idea of the puppets having their own souls and being agents of the resistance themselves through the stories they were demonstrating. In terms of atmosphere and creation of culture, the entire novel was done very well and I have to say that Elizabeth Buchan really does excel in bringing her settings to life. I felt very much in Paris and in Prague, less so with Berlin, but I do feel like I got the essence of those cities within the era they were conveyed. If you’re interested in the Cold War and you like your narrative being a little bit more driven by romance rather than politics, then this would be a novel that you’re likely to enjoy. There are some beautifully written passages and genuine moments of authenticity.
“How easily love made do with the slivers that were offered.”
Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of The Museum of Broken Promises for review.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Buchan was a fiction editor at Random House before leaving to write full time. Her novels include the prizewinning Consider the Lily, international bestseller Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman and The New Mrs Clifton. Buchan’s short stories are broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in magazines. She reviews for the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail, and has chaired the Betty Trask and Desmond Elliot literary prizes. She was a judge for the Whitbread First Novel Award and for the 2014 Costa Novel Award. She is a patron of the Guildford Book Festival and of The National Academy of Writing, and sits on the author committee for The Reading Agency.
The Museum of Broken Promises
Published by Allen & Unwin
Released October 2019