The Museum of Forgotten Memories…
About the Book:
From the bestselling author of The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton.
Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World, a dilapidated, once-whimsical museum, offers unexpected solace to a grieving widow, and exposes secrets that will alter the course of her life.
When Cate and Richard met at university they felt an immediate spark, but as the couple matured Richard’s inner demons threatened their happiness. With time, he receded further and further into darkness until he disappeared altogether.
Now, four years after Richard’s passing, Cate is let go from her teaching job and can’t pay the rent on the London flat she shares with her and Richard’s son, Leo. She packs the two of them up and ventures to Richard’s grandfather’s old Victorian museum in the small town of Crouch-on-Sea, where the dusty staff quarters await her. Despite growing pains and a grouchy caretaker, Cate falls in love with the quirky taxidermy exhibits and sprawling grounds and makes it her mission to revive them. But as Cate becomes more invested in Hatters, she must finally confront the reality of Richard’s death – and the role she played in it – in order to reimagine her future.
The Museum of Forgotten Memories masterfully weaves life with death, past with present, and grief with hope.
Last year, I started my reading year off with The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton, a novel that left a definite imprint upon me. I was so pleased to see a new release by Anstey Harris, particularly in the form of an early review copy delivered straight to my door. The Museum of Forgotten Memories has more than lived up to its predecessor, tapping into the same heartfelt and deeply meaningful prose that I now recognise as Anstey’s signature style, but delivered in an entirely different context and setting.
Funnily enough, and also by coincidence, this is the second novel I have read this year that features a museum of natural history dating back to the Victorian era. This one offers readers a more sympathetic gaze, one that considers the worth of the legacy preserved and the importance of its conservation. I’m not a fan of taxidermy, and nor is Cate when she first arrives at the museum. I liked the way that Anstey wins Cate over, and with her insightful approach, she wins me over as well. It’s always tricky to navigate an historical topic when we are gazing at it through a contemporary lens. Since reading this novel, I’ve gained greater insight into the need for preserving these Victorian relics; the alternative just makes it all seem like so much more of a waste of those precious lives otherwise.
‘Richard’s grandfather was a Victorian conservationist, and that meant that he shot, stuffed, and brought to England thousands of animals from all over the world. He believed he was preserving them for posterity and education.’
‘The gallery is huge, a lantern of glass in the ceiling lets in enough light to cast eerie shadows around the room.
Every animal is posed, mostly with another of its species, as if it is mid-breath, so lifelike it feels that they are about to place one hoof or claw or foot in front of the other and walk right towards us. Their glass eyes twinkle with the reflected sunlight and I prepare for the inevitability of seeing one blink.’
‘The noises of cars crunching up the drive, children calling to one another across the gardens, the murmur of visitors contemplating, marvelling, it’s all very life-affirming. The museum is waking up.’
This story is very much a sea change one. Circumstances beyond Cate’s control have forced her onto a new path, along with her son. She has dealt with so much over the years and been forced into a position of always having to be the one to set things right, to keep things ticking over, to deal with stuff. I felt so much for Cate, who really did a bang up job of holding the world up for everyone else whilst still managing to keep herself afloat. Her pain at losing her husband, still raw, was moving, and her skill at being Leo’s mother was extraordinary. I absolutely loved Cate’s journey throughout this novel, and Leo’s too, as they each moved on from their lives they were forced to leave behind in London, fully embracing what seemed in the end to be their true destinies.
‘Not for the first time, I am thankful that I have never felt the weight of the world as heavily as Richard did. Not for the first time, a diamond dust of resentment grinds in my silent inner self; in the part that always copes, in the part that bears the whole weight of the boy who was once Richard’s world.’
‘You can’t open the windows and blow that kind of illness out, empty your world of germs and right it instantly. There is no amount of hot yellow lemon drinks or vibrant orange juice, no bright luminescent colours you can swallow, that can relight the person you have lost to depression. But, if you are lucky, they will occasionally swim to the surface, gasp at the air there like a dying man, and maybe float awhile.’
I adore the way in which Anstey writes. It’s spare and to the point, filled with heart and cuts right to the bone sometimes. When you read a novel by her, you are walking alongside her characters from beginning to end, bearing witness to their pain, their happiness, their life. Her writing is stunning and just as I was bowled over by The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton, I have also been wowed by The Museum of Forgotten Memories. This is a beautifully moving and delightfully inspiring story. A brilliant read for these unsettling times we have all currently found ourselves in.
Thanks is extended to Simon & Schuster Australia for providing me with a review copy of The Museum of Forgotten Memories.
About the Author:
Anstey Harris teaches creative writing for Canterbury Christ Church University and in the community with her own company, Writing Matters. She has been featured in various literary magazines and anthologies, been shortlisted for many prizes, and won the H G Wells Short Story Award. Anstey lives in Kent, UK and is the mother of the singer-songwriter Lucy Spraggan.
The Museum of Forgotten Memories
Published by Simon & Schuster UK
Released 1st June 2020