Clover Quinn was a surprise. She used to imagine she was the good kind, now she's not so 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 done his best. He's 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 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.
Welcome to my spot on the Blog Tour for The Museum of You by Carys Bray, published by Hutchinson (Penguin Random House) on 16 June 2016.
2016 has been a very very good year for books. I look back over the past six months and see so many wonderful stories, such a wealth of amazing writing. I'm not sure how on earth I will ever pick out a list of Top Books of 2016.
The Museum of You by Carys Bray is another incredible addition to the treasures of 2016. I was totally bewitched by the writing, the story and the absolutely wonderfully created characters. The story consumed me, the depth astounded me, and best of all, it also made me laugh ... out loud.
It's the long summer holidays and this year, Clover Quinn is old enough to look after herself when her bus-driver dad, Darren is out at work. She spends her days pottering around the house and tending to the family allotment. She collects fresh vegetables for her Grandad and her Uncle Jim, although she knows that Uncle Jim won't eat them ... sometimes he doesn't eat anything for days, when he's 'not himself'.
Darren Quinn drives his bus around the neighbourhood, thinking about his daughter. He's always
done everything he can to make Clover happy, he wonders if he's done enough. He thinks about how he could have gone to University, if Clover's mother hadn't left her handbag on his bus, all those years ago. He worries about Jim, he's not too sure what to think about his mate Kelly, and he spars and jokes with long-time best pal Colin.
Meanwhile, Clover has an idea. After a visit to the Maritime Museum in Liverpool, she decides to create the life of Becky, her mum. She'll be the curator of the exhibition, she'll go into the second bedroom that's full of bags and boxes of 'stuff' that belonged to her mother, and she'll use the stuff to tell Becky's story.
The problem is that nobody has ever told Clover the real story about her mum. Mrs Mackerel next door often refers to Becky as A BIG GIRL and always finishes any sentence about her with BLESS HER. Her Dad doesn't have many photographs, and she's a little bit frightened of asking too many questions.
So Clover takes the stuff, and imagines her own story, and tries to make her imaginings into Becky's story,
Carys Bray's writing is so gentle but oh so powerful, her words pack a punch that touches the heart and her characters seem so alive.
Clover is an extraordinary character, she's wise and witty and kind and caring. She's also missing a mother, and despite her desperate love for her father, she yearns to know everything there is to know about Becky.
Darren is a great bloke. He's kind, he's sometimes impatient and grumpy, he knows his faults, but he loves Clover so much. He's spent her lifetime protecting her from the truth, and by doing so, he finds it harder and harder to move on. He can't throw anything away, he can't speak honestly to Clover, he's struggling.
I love this book so much. I adore Mrs Mackerel, the old lady next door whose mixed up words and shouty language had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion. These characters are so well rounded and their story is so moving. The setting and the era are perfect.
Beautifully imagined and expertly told The Museum of You is a complete triumph. I continued to think about the characters long after I finished the story. Beautiful
My thanks to the author and the publisher who sent my copy for review.
I'm thrilled to welcome Carys Bray here to Random Things today as part of the Blog Tour for The Museum of Us. She's talking about 'My Life in Books'
My Life in Books ~ Carys Bray
Morris's Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells My mum had a collection of books that she only got out during December. This made them seem really special and exciting. On December 1st we received our advent calendar and we were also allowed to rummage through the Christmas books. My absolute favourite was Morris's Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells. Morris is the youngest member of his family and he's feeling left out on Christmas Day. Then he spots an overlooked present under the tree and suddenly everyone wants to play with him.
The Book of Mormon I haven't put 'by' after the title of this book because it's either written by a series of ancient American prophets (if you're a believer) or by Joseph Smith (if you're a non-believer) - and I couldn't fit all that on one line. Before I was born my parents read this book and converted to Mormonism. As a result I was raised in a very religious household. Growing up, I believed in the historicity of The Book of Mormon. Nowadays, I view it as a piece of 19th century Biblical fanfiction - I still like some of the stories, though.
First Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton I worked my way through Enid Blyton's Malory Towers series when I was about nine or ten. Even back then, 30+ years ago, the books seemed to be set in a completely different world. They were full of strange ideas (boarding school), unfamiliar traditions (midnight feasts) and new words - it was some time before I realised that decent not pronounced deck-ent.
The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy In my mid-teens I adored Thomas Hardy. I studied Tess of the D'Ubervilles at school and went on to read all of Hardy's novels. My favourite was The Trumpet Major, perhaps because Anne Garland is more ordinary and down to earth than some of Hardy's other heroines. I haven't read any Hardy since I had children - I think my reluctance to revisit his work may have something to do with a certain scene in Jude the Obscure which seems all the more shocking to me since becoming a parent.
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields I read The Stone Diaries in my thirties, when I was doing my BA. I had just spent a decade being a stay at home mum and I was finally finding the time to read properly again. I thought the early scenes in the kitchen were remarkable - such beautiful domestic descriptions. When I reached the end of the first chapter I went back and read it again. I think it was the first and only time I've ever done that.
The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock by T S Eliot I also read The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock while I was doing my BA. I loved Eliot's language and the poem's depictions of social awkwardness. At the time I was thinking about how to leave Mormonism without becoming estranged from my extended family and friends. 'Do I dare disturb the universe?' The question echoed in my head - do I dare disturb my universe? In the end, I dared.
Hey Yeah Right Get A Life by Helen Simpson During my MA I was workshopping a story called 'Everything a Parent Needs to Know' when the workshop leader said she thought I would enjoy Helen Simpson's stories. The following week, she passed me her copy of Simpson's collection, and she was right. I loved it. I also felt like it gave me permission to write about things that interest me. As Simpson said, 'It does seem ridiculous that describing domestic work and life - the daily reality of most women in the world - is seen as letting the side down.'
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews I read a review of All My Puny Sorrows on Sara Crowley's blog. It sounded amazing. Then a friend offered to lend me her copy (which I still haven't returned) and it was as amazing as I had hoped. All My Puny Sorrows is a comic novel about suicide and bereavement - that may sound impossible and/or crass, but it is wonderfully funny and desperately sad. There is a scene at the end of the novel involving a series of phone calls that will always stay with me.
Carys Bray ~ June 2016
Carys Bray is the author of a collection of short stories, Sweet Home, which was awarded the Scott Prize.
Her first novel, A Song for Issy Bradley, was shortlisted for the Costa, the Desmond Elliot, the Waverton Good Read and won the Author's Club Best First Novel Award. It was a Richard and Judy Book Club selection and a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime.
She lives in Southport with her husband and four children.
For more information about Carys Bray and her writing, visit www.carysbray.co.uk
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @CarysBray