Museum Reads

Almost every novel I’ve read recently seems to have a museum, and often a micro-museum, in it. Is this a trend? Or do I pick them out? Or do they pick me?

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An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

“It’s hard to explain,” he caught himself saying sometimes to young people who came into his museum, which had formerly been the Skymiles Lounge in Concourse C. But he took his role as curator seriously and he’d decided years ago that ‘It’s hard to explain’ isn’t good enough, so he tried to explain it all anyway, whenever anyone asked about any of the objects he’d collected over the years, from the airport and beyond – the laptops, the iPhones, the radio from an administrative desk, the electric toaster from an airport-staff lounge, the turntable and vinyl records that some optimistic scavenger had carried back from Severn City – and of course the context, the pre-pandemic world he remembered so sharply”

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A beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

“In the afternoon he takes her on his rounds. He oils latches, repairs cabinets, polishes escutcheons. He leads her down hallway after hallway into gallery after gallery. Narrow corridors open into immense libraries; glass doors give way to hothouses overflowing with smells of humus, wet newspaper, and lobelia. There are carpenters’ shops, taxidermists’ studios, acres of shelves and specimen drawers, whole museums within the museum.

Some afternoons he leaves Marie-Laure in the laboratory of Dr. Geffard, an aging mollusk expert whose beard smells permanently of damp wool. Dr. Geffard will stop whatever he is doing and open a bottle of Malbec and tell Marie-Laure in his whispery voice about reefs he visited as a young man: the Seychelles, Belize, Zanzibar. He calls her Laurette; he eats a roasted duck every day at 3 pm, his mind accommodates a seemingly inexhaustible catalog of Latin binomial names.”

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Sussex, 1912. In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to be seen. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.

Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At 17, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it is all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed animals that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man.

The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hand pick up a flint. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead.

“Holding hands, they walked forward into a room so full of treasures it was impossible to know where to look first. Birds’ nests suspended from the ceiling, a jumble of glass and feathers and furs, pelts hanging from the rafters. And everywhere, waist-high display cases – eye level for her – with a spine of glass domes along the middle of the room containing stuffed birds: an owl, a robin nesting in a kettle, a duckling with four legs. A fox and her cubs, a two-headed kitten. A mummified hand, charred and blackened and sticky; withered flowers from a plundered grave. Grotesque and chillingly beautiful.”

 

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