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  • funny, moving, utterly enchanting

    “I cannot count the people outside. They look for all the world like an angry mob, come from the village to storm our castle. Except that they’re all smiling: they’re chattering and laughing. And they are all carrying buckets and mops and ladders and cloths in place of swords and maces and clubs.” The Museum of Forgotten Memories (also published as Where We Belong) is the second novel by British author, Anstey Harris. They hadn’t been made particularly welcome, nor was the accommodation quite what they expected. But the museum at Crouch-on-Sea, Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World: that was fantastic. Mounted animals from everywhere in breath-taking displays, extensive and beautiful gardens, and a stunning glass-domed library. Not that Cate Morris and her son, Leo had had any choice in the matter: they’d hung on in London after Richard died but, with Cate made redundant from her teaching job, and nowhere else to live, they had to insist on Leo’s right, as a descendant of Colonel Hugo Lyons-Morris, to reside at the museum his parents had founded. Richard always refused to discuss the place, let alone go there, so Cate didn’t know what to expect. “It was lonely, watching the man I loved fade and grow hazy, muted inside a facsimile of his physical self – a self that grew ever thinner and more angular.” Even four years after losing him, Cate is still often beset by anger and guilt. Leo may be a blessing, but he is often a challenge to raise; moreso, alone. She still misses Richard so much: “I live with a Richard-sized hole in my life: almost a physical thing in the room we slept in; in the places we took Leo to; in the kitchen every day when I finish work.” Emails to the only person who truly understands, their mutual best friend Simon Henderson, offer some respite. Hatters caretaker Araminta Buchan is stiff and formal with Cate, but softer towards Leo. She’s explained the museum is under threat of closure, and it isn’t until Cate offers to help with a tour group that she unbends a little. Could they, together, actually save the place? And might Cate learn more of the family about which Richard was so unwaveringly reticent? With a setting that sets the imagination soaring, Harris gives the reader a story populated by characters with depth and appeal; some are quirky while many are typical inhabitants of the English village. Leo is most certainly a star and Cate learns that age and experience don’t necessarily guarantee better judgement of character. If some aspects of the plot can be predicted, there are also quite a few surprises and secrets: “Family secrets can be huge, Cate… They destroy those who know them and they torture those who are outside them.” The story is set in 2020, but it’s not the written-by-Stephen-King 2020 we currently inhabit, it’s the 2020 we might have had if COVID-19 had not reared its ugly head. Funny, moving and utterly enchanting, Harris’s second novel is even better than her first. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Australia.

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