This book was somewhat of a revelation to me and totally not what I was expecting, but in a good way!
To be honest I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I bought it other than I knew it was a Salt book (we all know I love Salt) and the cover was pretty and intriguing. I think I expected some gentle humour, maybe some light hearted quirkiness but I got neither of these things and I’m so pleased!
Cathy works as a curator in the Natural History Museum in Berlin. She lives with her fiancé Tom who also works at the museum. She spends her days painstakingly cataloguing and recording specimens of animals. Bones, skeletons, artefacts from the animal world.
But hidden in one of her cupboards in her office are various items and mementos she has collected all through her life. Some hold very dear childhood memories or links back to happy times in her relationship with Tom. Tickets, small toys, a restaurant menu fashioned into a paper airplane. But there is also a very sinister side to her own personal museum.
Cathy holds on to items which are from a very disruptive, unsettling and frightening time in her life. She feels that she has some control of the memories if she can control the objects linked to them. Hence why she shuts them away.
Although Cathy is now in a loving relationship with Tom, she is also still deeply affected by a very controlling abusive relationship with her childhood friend Jack’s older brother Daniel.
Daniel has been to prison during Cathy’s move to firstly LA and then the move to Berlin but he has never once relinquished his grip on her. Sending small artefacts to her in the post whenever she is just to make sure she remembers him.
She’d had four email accounts and three phone numbers since leaving him, just in case that was how he was finding out where she was all the time. For the fifth time since arriving in Los Angeles, she moved apartments again. It didn’t ever make a difference.
The story is set over one night in the museum where an award ceremony is being held. Cathy is due to receive an award but becomes embroiled in her past catching up with her. We also have flash backs of her childhood on the coast, living with her alcoholic father and her soon to be absent mother. Her friendship with Jack and her awkward relationship with his older brother Daniel.
The way the relationship between Cathy and Jack is written is beautiful. Both somewhat wild children who are fascinated with nature. Cathy is often referred to as ‘feral’. Revelling in exploring the coast line and the marshes. Discovering bones of dead animals and painstakingly piecing them back together.
Cathy and Jack have a bond over nature and start to collect their own treasures from the coastline. Both of them finding easy companionship with each other in the face of family adversity, a not very present father with alcohol issues and a brother who is more interested in girls than looking after his little brother.
The chapters written in the modern day on that one night in the museum are very claustrophobic. There’s an intense cat and mouse type feeling to them which I found very atmospheric. I think I stopped breathing at certain points!
Cathy is such a complex character. Shaped by her difficult childhood and desperate to escape her past despite clinging on to the bad memories in the form of her little museum of hurt and pain. She is still somewhat ‘feral’ in her current life but not to the extent she was as a child. She’s flawed and fascinating and has such strength. Her relationship with Tom is so quirky and beautiful. They recite facts to each other whilst having deep and meaningful conversations. Tom is entranced by her and this comes through in every action he takes.
‘By the time I’ve finished speaking this sentence the earth will have spun 1450 metres,’ she said, then tilted her head to the side. ‘Daniel used to hit me a lot. I was never in a car crash like I told you; my scars are mostly from him, although I was an accident prone kid too. I stayed far too long with him. I thought I deserved what he did to me. I didn’t know how to get away’.
‘I love you’ he said.
This book slowly drew me in. The writing is gorgeous and the museum itself is almost like another character. Descriptive, compelling and insidiously chilling, I really enjoyed this book. Although given the subject matter that feels wrong to say.
If you enjoy slow, atmospheric, chilling narratives then this book is for you. A fascinating female protagonist and amazing scene setting.
I’m now also intrigued by the authors earlier work and will most definitely be investing in her previous two novels.
Give it a whirl.
See you soon.
Bookish Chat xxx