Trigger warning for discussion of suicide.
It’s not uncommon for people to travel after a tragedy. A new setting can help start the healing process; the sight of unfamiliar things won’t trigger memories. The protagonist of Anstey Harris’ The Museum of Forgotten Memories doesn’t really have a choice about leaving her home for a new place. As the novel opens, Cate Morris received the news that she’s been laid off from her job as a teacher. With no income and no savings, Cate has to rely on her son’s inheritance. As the last Lyons-Morris, Leo has the right to live in the ancestral home in Crouch-on-Sea. This might seem like a lifeline, but the ancestral home is a museum on its last legs. It’s not an ideal situation for Cate and her son to get back on their metaphorical feet.
Four years before the book opens, Cate’s husband committed suicide after a long struggle with severe mental illness. Cate learns after his death that he put the family in massive debt. Everything was repossessed. It took some legal wrangling to even get a temporary home at Hatters. Cate is not anticipating that it will be a haven. She doesn’t even know much about the place, other than the fact that her husband lived there until he abruptly stopped talking to his grandfather. Once she and Leo arrive at Hatters and meet the grim caretaker, Araminta, Cate is overwhelmed with worry about what’s going to happen to her battered little family.
Hatters is a curious place. One of the ancestors collected animal skins and specimens from all over the world, to display them for the edification of the locals. The place should be ghastly. It’s packed to the rafters with mounted animals. And yet, Cate’s son settles right in. He’s loved as the last Lyons-Morris, even though he misses his friends. (I was a little confused about Leo at the beginning of the novel. He’s 19, but speaks in a way that doesn’t sound like a 19-year-old. He doesn’t swear for one. It is only later that Cate reveals that Leo has Down’s Syndrome.) Cate takes longer to bond with Hatters. A few weeks in, however, and Cate is almost as determined as Araminta in keeping Hatters open.
The Museum of Forgotten Things is written in two plot threads. The story of Cate, Leo, Araminta, and Hatters bumps along in a quiet way as the trio overcome the obstacles in front of them. The other thread is darker, consisting of Cate’s recollections of her marriage and her husband’s decline. They’re tonally very different but the contrast worked for me. The lightness balances the grimness, while the hard topics in Cate’s memory give weight to what’s happening in Cate’s present. I found this to be a skillful, interesting novel of healing and perseverance. Readers who enjoy stories about life after personal tragedy will like this one, I think.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.