It’s Never Too Late to “Meet Me at the Museum”

1250295165.01._SX142_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_  Anne Youngson’s Meet Me at the Museum focuses on second chances in life and love, but shifting gears into this slow-paced epistolary novel fired up my unexpected interest in anthropology and had me looking for more information.  The Tollund man, a perfectly preserved prehistoric man found in the Danish bog, now on display at the Silkeborge Museum in Denmark, is the motivation behind a chain of letters between an unhappy older woman dissatisfied with her life on the farm, and a lonely museum curator who has recently lost his wife.  Tina Hopgood initiates the letters with an inquiry about the Tollund man, and Anders Larson, the museum curator responds,  with a short lecture on the exhibit and an invitation to visit.  

After 40 years as a farm wife, Tina is regretting she never visited the museum but also wonders about other options in her life she never had the chance to consider. Recently widowed Anders works at Denmark’s Silkeborge Museum, which houses Tollund Man, and is finding himself unable to move on after the death of his wife.  Gradually, over eighteen months of writing, their salutations progress from “Dear Mrs. Hopgood” and “Best Wishes” to “My dear Tina” and finally to  “All my love.” 

As the letters become more personal, they disclose their struggles and give each other advice.  Both have grown daughters who are about to make major changes in their lives, and both are wondering if their lives have had any meaning.  Throughout the story, Youngson interjects long descriptions of farm life from Tina and details of the Tollund Man from Anders.  Tina’s letters are filled with the monotony of tending chickens and slaughtering pigs.  She describes picking raspberries, noting that no matter how careful she is, she always finds some she’s missed, comparing her life to a missed row of raspberries. As their letters eventually merge into philosophical observations from both correspondents and the realization of their new-found connection, raspberries become their private reference for second chances, with Anders noting “I feel I have overlooked far too many of the fruits in this life I have.”

“Our letters have meant so much to us because we have both arrived at the same point in our lives. More behind us than ahead of us…Please do not be angry with the circumstances of your life … nothing is so fixed it cannot be altered.”

Youngson may be her own inspiration for the story.  As an Oxfordshire farm wife who always wanted to write a novel, she finally did write this debut novel in her sixties, and is now pursuing a Ph.D.  It’s never too late.

UnknownAs for Tallund Man, here’s what I discovered – click here for more information

 

Other Epistolary Novels I’ve Enjoyed:

  • Daddy Long Legs
  • 84 Charing Place
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
  • The Divorce Papers
  • Dear Committee Members

Summer Romance

Summer is officially over, but the summer heat lingers.  Have you read anything steamy lately?

Here is my hot pick for historical romance:

bellewether-9781501116544_lg   Bellewether

Fans of Diane Gabaldon’s Outlander will relish Susanna Kearsley’s Bellewether, complete with romance, historical references, and a time-traveling ghost.

As Charley, the new curator of the Wilde House museum on Long Island, explores the history of the old house, her search parallels the world of the original 1750s family.  Kearsely alternates chapters in the voices of the men and women of the past with Charley and their modern day contemporaries.  The developing romance between Charley and Sam, the handsome contractor who is helping repair and restore the old house, mirrors the eighteenth century relationship of Lydia, twenty year old daughter of the house and Jean-Philippe, the French Canadian lieutenant staying in their house.

The story is slow-moving, bur offers glimpses into the lives of men and women living through one of the most comprehensive wars of the century.  Known as the French and Indian War in the American colonies, the Seven Years War ended with The Treaty of Paris transferring Canada from France to England, switching loyalties forever.  Kearsley also chronicle’s The Acadian Expulsion and its effect on families.

Prisoners during the French and Indian War were sometimes left in the homes of area farmers loyal to the British king under a gentleman’s agreement to do no harm and not try to escape.  Although he speaks no English, Jean Philippe volunteers to help Lydia’s father around the farm.  In the museum house’s legend, Lydia’s brother, Joseph, killed Jean Philippe to stop him from marrying Lydia.  In modern times, Charley is being helped by a mysterious ghost, possibly one of the colonial lovers, as she uncovers clues to the past.  In the end, the true history is revealed, conveniently creating a happily ever after ending for all.

More Historical Romances:

51qskWl-U4L._SY346_ Reading now on my iPhone: The Lost Vintage by Anne Mah

“A woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy to study for her Master of Wine test, uncovers a lost diary, a forgotten relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II.

51Idch895UL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_  Listening to: The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall

“A dual-timeline narrative featuring a 1949 Miss Subways contestant and a modern-day advertising executive whose careers and lives intersect.”

9781524742959_p0_v2_s192x300-1  On the Wait List at the library: The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

“The glamorous lost art school within Grand Central Terminal, where two very different women, fifty years apart, strive to make their mark on a world set against them.”

Books To Binge Read

When a book is so compelling, I need to finish it – fast – just to find out how all the pieces come together.  I find myself binge reading to the end – most of the time finishing in a day.  Here a few books I couldn’t put down:

The Book of Esse

medium  I did not expect to be captured by Meghan MacLean Weir’s story of the seventeen year old daughter of an on-air evangelical reality show in The Book of Esse, but the story was compelling and I finished it in a sitting.

Esse is pregnant, and her solution to her problem is to marry a handsome, poor, gay star of the baseball team at her high school.  Reluctantly, Roarke accepts the bribe to save his family’s business and get a free ride to Columbia University. Another victim of child abuse,  Liberty Hall, a journalist following the family, has her own skeletons from her past, but she is now helping Esse and possibly ghost-writing her story.   The father of the baby seems a mystery, but it’s easy to figure out it’s someone in Esse’s family, and eventually his identity is revealed.

Weir addresses the obsession with reality television, its effect on the participants as well as the viewers, and raises issue with those “perfect” evangelical role models, while capturing a connection between two self-possessed teenagers.

415mOnyEFsL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_  Give Me Your Hand

Megan Abbot’s new thriller – Give Me Your Hand – involves two brainy women competing for prestigious scientific accolades, with ambition and murder driving the plot.

Kit Owens and Diane Fleming meet as teenagers in Advanced Placement chemistry class. Both are brilliant and become close friends – until Diane shares a lethal secret with Kit which drives them apart.  Years later they meet again as researchers, competing to work for a prestigious scientist in a grant funded study of premenstrual dysphoric disorder.  The men scientists never have a chance as Abbott juggles green-eyed monsters with poisonous cravings.  Alternating between high school days (then) and post-doctoral research days (now), Abbott creates a suspenseful plot with a surprising twist on motivation at the end.

The Perfect Couple

9780316375269_p0_v3_s600x595  In her twenty-first novel set in the summer on Nantucket, Elin Hildebrand once again offers her signature view of love and life on the island, with descriptions of the opulent homes and glimpses into the lives of the wealthy. Of course, Hilderbrand adds romance and lots of fooling around, but for the first time in one of her Nantucket stories she adds a murder.

A wedding on Nantucket in July is the setting, with the maid of honor found dead on the morning of the wedding.  Clever red herrings keep the reader guessing whodunit until the very end.  Another book read in a sitting – just had to find out how the investigation would be resolved, and which couples would survive all the infidelity. A fun “beach” read, set at a New England beach – you can almost smell the salt air.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

It’s summer year round here, so I’ve given myself permission to have beach reads on my shelf anytime; in fact, it’s been a while since I’ve been immersed in a pithy book or a thought provoking tome up for an award.  The Man Booker Prize longlist  of books will be announced soon – maybe I’ll get some ideas for books to challenge me then,

For now, I’m content with what I’ve been reading in paperback.

Scottish author Beatrice Colin weaves a complicated historical fiction around the construction of the Eiffel Tower. The politics and sheer precision of the engineering dominates the story. But what would Paris be without romance, and Colin obliges with her characters, using the turmoil of their lives to complement the uncertainty of the tower’s completion.

The romance between a Scottish widow, Cait, and the chief engineer under the famous Gustave Eiffel, Émile Nouguier, dominates the backdrop.  Cait is chaperoning two wealthy spoiled Scottish siblings, Alice and Jamie, on their world tour when she meets the handsome Émile, who is reluctantly assigned to mentor Jamie’s notion of becoming an architect. Émile’s jealous, wicked drug-addicted mistress conspires to foil Cait and Émile’s romance as well as ruin the young naive Alice in Cait’s charge.  Some steamy scenes but the relationships are somewhat contrived.  

The book took me longer to finish than I had expected – probably because I kept dwelling on the Parisian scenes and the descriptions of the arrondissements in the nineteenth century. The most compelling are the historical notes around the tower in progress, and the perfection needed to accomplish its completion.

UnknownA Long Way from Home – an Australian historical adventure

Peter Carey (who won the Man Booker Prize twice) writes an Australian saga of a couple who compete in the now defunct Redex Trial, a special rally to test the reliability and performance of the competing cars. The premise had me googling to see if it really existed.  It did.  Carey’s story focuses on Irene Bobs and her neighbor and navigator, Willie Bachhuber. Irene and her husband enter the race to publicize their new car dealership.

“The Redex Trial, a dusty tour of Australia that pits the dominance of Ford over “Australia’s Own Car,” the General Motors Holden: Two hundred lunatics circumnavigating the continent of Australia, more than 10,000 miles over outback roads so rough they might crack your chassis clean in half.”  

It’a  a wild ride as the Australian landscape whizzes by.

Unknown-1The Perfect Couple – murder, mystery and romance in Nantucket

I met an Australian couple recently from Melbourne who are fans of author Elin Hildebrand; they could not stop praising her books.  I’ve read a few of Hildebrand’s Nantucket stories, but had not thought about her in a while.  So I’ve downloaded her latest book – The Perfect Couple, her first murder mystery novel.  Set in Nantucket, of course, the story revolves around a wedding, a dying mother, and a dead maid of honor.  Fun and fast reading.

Unknown-2The Magic Hour – a Kristin Hannah melodrama

A 2007 novel by the author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone focuses on a six year old feral girl suddenly appearing from the surrounding woods of a Washington State town. Prominent child psychiatrist Julia Cates, struggling with her own issues of career confidence, works with her sister, the town’s police chief, to save the girl.  A compelling story with a little romance and, of course, a happy ending.

 

 

 

Perfect Timing for Easter – The Music Shop

When I finished reading Rachel Joyce’s The Music Shop on Good Friday, I wanted to hear Handel’s Messiah.   With the same quirky style as The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce delivers a love story with hidden notes of redemption and a nod to the healing power of music.

Spanning twenty years, the story revolves around Frank, who owns a music shop in England which stocks only vinyl records, and Ilse, a concert violinist who can no longer play.  In his review for The Washington Post, Ron Charles says:

“If you’ve read Joyce’s best-selling debut novel, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,”you already know her irresistible tone. There’s suffering here, too, and a searching journey, but this is a lighter book than “Harold Fry.” It’s a story that captures the sheer, transformative joy of romance — “a ballooning of happiness.” Joyce’s understated humor around these odd folks offers something like the pleasure of A.A. Milne for adults. She has a kind of sweetness that’s never saccharine, a kind of simplicity that’s never simplistic. Yes, the ending is wildly improbable and hilariously predictable, but I wouldn’t change a single note.”

I made notes for listening – click here to see my playlists.

Related Review:  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry