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The Museum Guard (1998)

by Howard Norman

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3761048,043 (3.3)30
Defoe Russet, orphaned at age nine by a zeppelin crash, has grown up in the care of his magnetic uncle Edward. Now twenty-five, he works as a guard at the Glace Museum in Halifax: his uncle is the other guard. DeFoe is caught up in a tormenting love affair with Imogen Linny, the caretaker of the small Jewish cemetery. Imogen is continually wracked by headaches and a sense of profound disillusionment with her life's lack of passion. When the Dutch painting Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam arrives at the museum, Imogen becomes obsessed and abandons her Life in favor of the one she imagines for the painting's subject -- even as being a Jew in Amsterdam is becoming more and more perilous as the clouds of World War II begin to gather in Europe.As the story of the painting's subject emerges, Imogen removes herself from DeFoe and enters the orbit of Edward and his obsession with the horrific news being broadcast from Europe. The inevitable collision of art and reality is surprising and prophetic. Drawing together the mysteries of identity and self-determination and the ominous aura of Europe in the late 1930s, The Museum Guard is also an examination of the drive to step out of the everyday and into action -- and of that drive's often tragic consequences. Like The Bird Artist, this is a work that will linger in the memory long after its startling conclusion.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Whoa! This was such an excellent story! I had no idea that I'd like it so much while I was reading it because nothing much seemed to happen for fully the first half of the book. I was also unhappy that the younger guard's love interest, Imogen Linny, seemed delusional, thinking that she was actually a person in a Dutch painting ("Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam'"). I never knew, at that point of the novel, how important that fact was to the very detailed plot to follow. The only thing I can say about the tempo of this book is to go along with it and wait to see what happens. You will not be disappointed.

Basically the story moves from the narrator, Defoe Russett, to Imogen as she goes deeper and deeper into her delusion while well-meaning folks try to help her. Those folks, though, are not sure, if by feeding her fantasy, they are helping her or harming her. It will be for you, the reader to decide at the end of the book. I actually liked the last part of the book the best, although it was a series of letters. They were so descriptive and astonishing! They described what happened to Imogen after she was escorted to Amsterdam to meet the artist who painted the woman she imagined herself to be.

I read this book because I liked The Bird Artist, another novel by the same author. Bring on more of his books! What a treat they've been so far! ( )
  SqueakyChu | Sep 13, 2018 |
Odd but evocative novel set in 1930s Halifax, Nova Scotia. Love, obsession, art. Strangely compelling and beautifully written. ( )
  icolford | Aug 10, 2011 |
Set in late 1930s Halifax, Nova Scotia, this story of love, obsession, identity, and art takes place as Canadians are just beginning to hear of the horrors Hitler is bringing to Europe and to Europe's Jews. The writer holds the reader at arm's length, leisurely edging towards the heart of the tale, a spell-binding gem which takes up the last 100 pages. Unfortunately, the story should have been a novella, not the 300-page novel it is. I say unfortunately because I think many readers will give up in disinterest before they get to the wonderful conclusion. ( )
2 vote auntmarge64 | Sep 3, 2010 |
howard norman writes novels that are almost twilight zone, strange character inacting with "norman people' that get caught up in a werid experience. he is a excellent writer ( )
  michaelbartley | Jun 26, 2010 |
The Museum Guard tells the story of an uncle and nephew who work as security guards at a small museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The nephew, DeFoe, lost his parents in a zeppelin accident when he was eight and has since been raised by his uncle. DeFoe grew up living in a hotel with his uncle and when he finally moved out of his uncle's room, it was only to relocate down the hall in the same hotel. DeFoe's uncle, Russett, is a crotchety man in his forties who lives a fast life filled with women, alcohol and gambling. Trouble arises when DeFoe falls in love with an eccentric woman who is the caretaker at the local Jewish cemetery. When a new piece of artwork comes into the museum, DeFoe’s girlfriend becomes infatuated with it to the point of endangering her own life and sanity as well as that of the other characters in the novel.

This novel was a good read but it was very odd. The book seemed to start off with a very different story than the one that it ended up with. About halfway through the novel, the plot too an extremely unexpected turn that really changed the entire direction and theme of the novel. I greatly enjoyed the relationship between the nephew and his uncle but was not enthralled with the other characters. Furthermore, the events in the final 100 pages of the book seemed extremely far-fetched and completely out of context. Additionally, the last fifty pages are written as a series of letters which come off as being stilted. It feels as if the author wanted to the reader to have information that was outside of the narrator's purview and therefore decided to tell the final chapter through correspondence. Despite my knowledge that the book had peaked halfway through, I was still drawn to finish it.

www.iamliteraryaddicted.blogspot.com ( )
1 vote sorell | Dec 26, 2009 |
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"Let us shut off the wireless and listen to the past."--Virginia Woolf
For Jane and Emma
For Melanie Jackson
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The painting I stole for Imogen Linny, Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam, arrived to the Glace Museum, here in Halifax, on September 5, 1938.
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Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1938. Orphaned at age nine by a zepplin crash, Defoe Russet grew up in a hotel unde the care of his magnetic uncle Edward. Now thirty, DeFoe works with Edward as a guard in Halifax's three-room Glace Museum. By day, he and his uncle break the silence of the museum with heated conversations that show them to be "opposite at life." By night, DeFoe spends his time trying to keep the affection of Imogen Linny, the young caretaker of the small Jewish cemetery. Their relationship is a most provocative example of unrequited love. When the Dutch painting Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam arrives at the museum, Imogen becomes obsessed and abandons her life in favor of the ennobled one she imagines for its subject-even though a Jew in Amsterdam is becoming more and more perilous as the clouds of WWII begin to gather. As the true story of the Jewess emerges, Imogen leaves DeFoe and enters the orbit of Edward and his own fascination with the horrific news being broadcast from Europe. Drawing together the mysteries of identity and self-determination and the ominous aura of the late 1930s, The Musem Guard is an examination of the desire to step out of the everyday and into action - and of that desire's often tragic consequences.

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