A novel based on letters can be instantly engaging, especially when the writers start out as strangers and through writing, become friends. One of my favourites is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Anne Shaffer, which is one of the most heart-warming books ever. And then there is 84 Charring Cross Road by Helene Hanff, which isn’t a novel, but the actual correspondence between the author and the staff at a second-hand bookshop. You wouldn’t think that could be interesting, but thanks to the wonderful personality of the author, has become a classic, especially for book lovers.
Now we have Meet Me at the Museum, a novel in letters which begins when farmer’s wife, Tina Hopgood, writes to the museum housing The Tollund Man, in Denmark. She writes to the author of a book she discovered as a child and regrets in the fifty years since that she has never been able to make the pilgrimage to the museum to see The Tollund Man or meet the author, Professor Glob.
Tina doesn’t expect a reply, but Anders Larson, the current curator, feels the need to inform her that while Professor Glob passed away some decades before, there is no reason for her not visit the museum now. So begins a correspondence between the two in which Tina explains that she had planned to visit the museum with her best friend, Bella, who has just died. Anders has also recently lost his wife and so the letters become an outpouring of empathy and understanding, drawing the reader into the worlds of each correspondent.
What I really liked about the book:
- Anders and Tina are excellent letter writers and evoke their settings well – Tina’s life on her farm and her interactions with family; Anders’ comparatively solitary existence, with glimpses of his family and his life with his late wife. They also write about how they experience music and poetry, are often philosophical and there’s a thread of wry humour running through their letters.
- There are subplots which add drama surrounding both Tina’s family (a wedding and a break-up) and Anders’ daughter (a birth and a reconciliation).
- Archaeology adds another layer to the story, with the descriptions of The Tollund Man’s likely iron-age way of life and death, and the iron-age sites around where Tina lives in East Anglia.
- What begins as a simple idea for a story becomes a real page-turner. Will Anders and Tina ever meet at the museum? You just have to know.
- This is definitely the kind of book that fits the Up-Lit category and while it is kind of heart-warming, it also makes you think about the everyday things people take for granted. I really enjoyed Meet Me at the Museum – four out of five from me.