Finding the Iron Age in the present

I have the pleasure of knowing Anne personally but, while it is always lovely to have writer friends, do not think that my friendship with her will affect my review of her book, Meet Me at the Museum. My unbiased and objective opinion of her debut novel is that it is…absolutely fantastic!

It explores the themes of birth, loss, unfulfilled potential and, above all, relationships within a tender, subtle dialogue between two correspondents, whose very different perspectives examine these fundamental aspects of life in thought-provoking depth. Yet it is the multidimensional characters that are the real stars of this novel.

Tina Hopgood is a farmer’s wife in East Anglia, intensely unhappy with how her life has turned out and feeling like the opportunity to fulfil the potential in her life has expired, while Anders Larsen is a bereaved curator, likewise emotionally lost in an inability to move on from his wife’s death and find new meaning in his life. Tina believes that her life has not transpired in the way she thought it would, with one of her largest ‘what ifs’ being the idea that she never made a pilgrimage to an important Iron Age exhibit in Denmark as she always wanted to do (it may sound unusual out of context, but it makes perfect sense in the book!). She writes to a professor that she once met about it, but the professor has since passed away and only Anders is in a position to answer her letter. What begins as polite discussion develops into an intimate long-distance friendship that sustains them both through moments of joy and pain.

The novel is epistolary, meaning that it is comprised entirely of the letters between the two characters. I normally find these kinds of books very hard to connect with emotionally as the openings tend to be rather impersonal in order to realistically reflect the tone of initial correspondence between strangers. However, it is captivating from the beginning. Anne injects a warm note of personality throughout the novel with the complex, fascinating characters of Tina and Anders, whose letters to one another reveal different aspects of themselves and catalogue their gradual growth together as individuals through discussing how to move forward in life. Their strength is their relatability; their discourse covers all parts of life, everything that everyone must deal with at some time or another but rarely contemplates in much detail except when forced to by necessity. It is a wonderful experience to open the book and be faced with a meditation on the world infused with curiosity and which forces a re-evaluation of all that we often take for granted.

But this is not arduous; it is an extremely enjoyable process, made so by the use of beautiful symbolic imagery. One particular image that plays a prominent role in the novel is the idea of life being like picking raspberries, going down one row but, upon turning and walking back down the lane again, seeing a new perspective and finding new fruit that has been missed. It made me think and examine my own opinions on life. It made me see new raspberries.

It’s honestly a gorgeous book. It transcends even emotion and looks instead at the fundamental nature of humanity, helping us to understand ourselves in the process. It is well worth meeting the pages of Meet Me at the Museum.

New Voices 2019 featuring Anne Youngson, Candice Carty-Williams and Elizabeth Macneal is at 12pm in the Methodist Church on Sat 27 April.

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