By Rachel Morris, author of The Museum Makers, which is out in paperback today.
Novelists love museums – whether as backdrops on which to stage their stories or as metaphors for all the big, interesting things in life, like Time and Loss and Memory. So here, in ascending order, are some of my favourite museums-in-novels.
5. The Story of the Amulet by E. Nesbit. A children’s story, more than 100 years old, that still feels so fresh it jumps off the page at you. The story of a furious Babylonian queen who storms the British Museum to take back the artefacts that once belonged to her.
4. Madame Shreck’s Museum in Nights at the Circus, which was written in the 1980s by Angela Carter. This being Angela Carter the book is entirely on the side of the artefacts (and the people) inside the showcases.
3. ‘In a Museum’ by Thomas Hardy. Poets love museums too and especially Hardy who was obsessed with Time and Loss. In this poem he blends his own grief for the wife he abandoned with the story of a museum artefact. An early example of something that we now know well, that museum artefacts can be therapeutic.
2. The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald. A thinly disguised version of the British Museum and one of my favourite museums-in-novels. Fitzgerald believed that there are two kinds of people – those who eat and those who get eaten. It is entirely typical that her two protagonists are Len Coker and the hapless Waring Smith, both of them somewhere near the bottom of the hierarchy in this huge museum.
1. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. An after-the-apocalypse novel that I love for its defiant belief that after the apocalypse we will need not only food and warmth and shelter but also museums (in this case The Museum of Civilisation in an old airport terminal), because without museums we can’t remember, and if we do not remember what will become of us?
All 5 books are available to buy from Rachel’s list on Bookshop.org.