#BookReview The Museum Makers by Rachel Morris @SeptemberBooks

The Museum Makers Blog TourWelcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Museum Makers by Rachel Morris. My thanks to Diana Riley for inviting me to take part in the tour and to September Publishing for my review copy.

The Museum Makers - front coverAbout the Book

Without even thinking I began to slide all these things from the boxes under my bed into groups on the carpet, to take a guess at what belonged to whom, to match up photographs and handwriting to memories and names – in other words, to sort and classify. You can tell that I am a museum person because my first instinct – I can’t help myself – is to believe that in the past lie both the secrets and the answers.”

Museum expert Rachel Morris had been ignoring the boxes of family belongings beneath her bed for decades. When she finally opened them she began a journey into her family’s dramatic story through the literary and bohemian circles of the nineteenth and twentieth century. It was a revelatory experience – one that finds her searching for her absent father in archives of the Tate, to wonder why Gran was predisposed towards tragic endings, and which transports her back to the museums that had enriched her lonely childhood. By teasing out the stories of those early museum makers, and the unsung daughters and wives behind them, and seeing them reflected in her own family, Morris digs deep into the human instinct for collection and curation.

Format: Hardcover (272 pages)         Publisher: September Publishing
Publication date: 27th August 2020 Genre: Memoir

Find The Museum Makers on Goodreads

Purchase links*
Hive (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience not as part of an affiliate programme

My Review

Subtitled ‘A Journey from Dark Boxes of Family Secrets to a Golden Era of Museums’, the book is described as part memoir, part detective story, part untold history of museums.

The author argues persuasively that objects have the power to evoke memories more strongly than words alone. Not just because they can be experienced via other senses, such as touch, but because they provide a more direct link to stories. The author’s passionate belief in the power of stories comes across as she talks about them making objects “glint with light” and helping to “set them moving in our imagination”.

The book traces the transition from 19th century national museums “devised by history’s winners” to the museums of the 20th century aimed at telling the stories of “the underdog, the poor, the dispossessed, history’s losers”. In doing so, Rachel Morris addresses topics of contemporary debate, such as the racism and colonialism associated with the acquisition and display of some objects in museums. (It was for this reason that a recent article in The Guardian newspaper about Hans Sloane, founder of the British Museum, caught my eye.)

In uncovering and collating the stories that constitute the author’s family history, it helps that it is peopled with characters such as the Free Lover and the London Aunt. The person who features most prominently, and memorably, in the book is Gran, one time romantic novelist and curator of most of the family’s stories. Those stories involve family scandals, illegitimate children, mistresses and the author’s rascal of a father. The latter gives rise to the detective story alluded to in the blurb.

Being a fellow book lover, one of my favourite chapters was the one in which Rachel Morris discusses imaginary museums in books (and film). To her list of suggested titles, I’d like to add Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson and The Museum of Broken Promises by Elizabeth Buchan.

The Museum Makers is a fascinating book about the history of museums and museum-making. In picking out some of her personal favourites, Rachel Morris reveals herself to be drawn to the small and/or curious, such as the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. But what makes the book even more interesting – and poignant – is the author’s childhood memories and her desire to tell the stories of the (often long-suffering or overlooked) women of previous generations of her family. In this respect, the family tree is useful for navigating the complexities of the author’s extended family and there are some wonderful photographs to help bring those people to life.

I can’t do better than echo the author’s own description of The Museum Makers as being the ‘catalogue’ for her museum – “a quirky, unconventional, very personal catalogue”. I hope her fears for the future of museums, especially small local museums, due to loss of local authority funding prove unfounded.

Follow this link to listen to a fascinating interview between Rachel and Imogen Greenberg in which Rachel talks about the inspiration for the book, what she learned from writing it and much more. As well as being the Globe Theatre’s podcast presenter and producer, Imogen is also Rachel’s daughter. You can also hear Rachel reading an extract from her book here.

In three words: Fascinating, honest, persuasive

Follow this blog via Bloglovin

Rachel Morris author The Museum MakersAbout the Author

A director of the museum-making company Metaphor, Rachel Morris has been part of the creation, design and delivery of some of the most exciting displays, renovations and museums of the last few decades, from the New Cast Courts at the V&A and the Ashmolean, Oxford to the Terracotta Warriors at the British Museum and Grand Egyptian museum in Cairo.  Rachel is also the author of two novels.

Connect with Rachel
Website | Twitter

#BookReview The Night of the Flood by Zoë Somerville @HoZ_Books

NightoftheFlood Blog TourWelcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Night of the Flood by Zoë Somerville, which will be published in hardback on 3rd September 2020. My thanks to Lauren at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my proof copy.

Somerville_The Night of the Flood_HBAbout the Book

Summer, 1952. Verity Frost, stranded on her family farm on the Norfolk coast, is caught between two worlds: the devotion of her childhood friend Arthur, just returned from National Service, and a strange new desire to escape it all. Arthur longs to escape too, but only with Verity by his side.

Into their world steps Jack, a charismatic American pilot flying secret reconnaissance missions off the North Sea coast. But where Verity sees adventure and glamour, Arthur sees only deception. As the water levels rise to breaking point, this tangled web of secrets, lies and passion will bring about a crime that will change all their lives.

Taking the epic real-life North Sea flood as its focus, The Night of the Flood is at once a passionate love story, an atmospheric thriller, and a portrait of a distinctive place in a time of radical social change.

Format: Hardcover (352 pages)              Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 3rd September 2020 Genre: Historical fiction

Find The Night of the Flood on Goodreads

Pre-order/Purchase links*
Amazon UK | Hive (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience not as part of an affiliate programme

My Review

The Night of the Flood involves not one but several love triangles. And we all know that three into two doesn’t go, that there’s always one left over.

The four main characters all to some extent feel as if they are outsiders. Arthur arrived at Howe Farm, home of the Frost family, as a child evacuee but feels he no longer belongs there. Peter Frost feels isolated by his inability to express his true nature and his sister, Verity, finds the expectations that she will marry and start a family alien to her nature. The most obvious outsider is Jack Doherty, a pilot stationed at the nearby American air base. However, he exudes a confidence and easy charm that enables him to be absorbed into local society in a way someone like Arthur can only dream of. A fifth character, Muriel, floats on the periphery. Once a playmate of the Frost children, she now feels distanced from them by her family’s poverty and social status.

Many of the characters also share a sense of thwarted ambition. Arthur has returned from National Service disappointed with the experience. He has aspirations to be a writer or journalist but finds himself instead acting as delivery boy in his mother’s grocery shop. It doesn’t help that he harbours doubts about his relationship with Verity, his childhood sweetheart. His frustration at times manifests itself in violent thoughts. Peter finds himself landed with the task of trying to rescue the family farm from financial ruin caused by his father’s profligacy, unwillingness to embrace change and descent into despair following a family tragedy. Verity’s hopes of studying and travel seem likely to be thwarted at the first hurdle.

In creating such a complex web of relationships, the author has skilfully created the ingredients for a dramatic and enthralling story. At the centre of the web is Verity, although she seems unaware of this and the effect she has on men who, as one character puts it, circle her like dogs on heat.

Starting the story in the months before the flood creates a sense of tension and expectation. Added to this is the backdrop of fear of nuclear war and the beginnings of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. When the flood does finally occur it is both actual and metaphorical. There are dramatic scenes as people try to escape the rising seawater, rescue others and salvage homes and possessions. But the night of the flood also sees events that will have long-lasting repercussions. Like an ebb tide, it leaves Peter and others trying to piece together what, if anything, is left from the wreckage and come to terms with what has lost been forever.

The Night of the Flood is an absorbing story of secrets, obsession and thwarted desire.

In three words: Atmospheric, compelling, dramatic

Try something similar: Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Follow this blog via Bloglovin

Zoe SomervilleAbout the Author

Zoë Somerville is a writer and English teacher. Having lived all over the world – Japan, France, Washington – she now lives in Bath with her family. After completing a creative writing MA at Bath Spa, Zoë started writing her debut novel, which is inspired by her home county, Norfolk, and the devastating North Sea flood of the 1950s.

Connect with Zoë