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Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
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Meet Me at the Museum

by Anne Youngson

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I’m a sucker for epistolary novels and this is a sweet one. An English farmer’s wife, Tina, and a museum employee in Denmark, Anders, become pen pals in a roundabout fashion. Tina has always wanted to visit the museum to see the Tollund Man. It’s a quiet story, filled with simple moments they share from their lives. I really enjoyed it.

"We should look inside ourselves for fulfillment. It is not fair to burden children or grandchildren with the obligation to make us whole." ( )
  bookworm12 | Mar 21, 2019 |
"We should look inside ourselves for fulfillment. It is not fair to burden children or grandchildren with the obligation to make us whole."

Tina, an English farmer's wife, and her childhood friend Bella have always dreamed of visiting the Tollund Man in Sweden. Bella has died and Tina writes to the museums curator to ask a question. Instead of getting to the person she wanted to talk to she receives an answer from the new curator, Anders.

so, begins a pen pal friendship that leads both to look at their lives differently. Change is inevitable.

This story is kind and gentle. No language, no sex and no violence. I liked all the characters. ( )
  maryahunt | Mar 15, 2019 |
This novel came to my attention because it was on the shortlist for the Costa First Novel Award, the same award that last year brought us Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Then I became more intrigued when I learned that the author wrote this debut novel at the age of 70.

This is an epistolary novel featuring the 18-month correspondence between Tina Hopgood, a farmer’s wife in East Anglia, and Anders Larsen, a curator at the Silkeborge Museum in Denmark. This museum houses the Tollund Man, an Iron Age man found in a Danish bog in 1950. An interest in this Tollund Man, who has a very serene expression on his face, prompts Tina to write to the museum. Slowly a friendship develops between her and the curator.

Initially, the letters are very formal. The salutations are “Dear Mr. Larsen” and “Dear Mrs. Hopgood” and the closings are “Regards, Anders Larsen, Curator” and “Sincerely, Tina Hopgood”. Gradually there is a shift in tone to “Dear Tina” and “Dear Anders” and “With all my good wishes, Anders” and “Love, Tina”. At first the letters, especially Anders’, are dry and factual but they slowly become warm and confiding. They express their thoughts and feelings and discuss regrets, losses, and disappointments, as well as spouses and children, music and poetry.

Tina mentions that she writes to help clarify her thoughts: “I am writing to you to make sense of myself.” Later, she comments, “when I sit down to write to you it seems as if all the strings holding my conscious mind together come loose and let my subconscious leak out.” But the letters work in other ways as well. Tina says, “writing to you has begun to feel like talking to [Bella, her best friend who recently died]” while Anders writes about “the comfort it has given me to be able to share”. Anders admits that he begins to pay more attention to the natural world, as Tina does, and that he listens more carefully because he wants to accurately relate what happened.

The two correspondents are very different in many ways. Hers is an outdoor life full of physical labour and she lives in a cluttered English farmhouse; his is an indoor, cerebral life and he lives in a Scandinavian house that could be described as minimalist. But what they share is more important. They are thoughtful and reflective and both are lonely.

It is obvious from the beginning that Tina is not happy with her life. She married young, “before it was quite the right time” and “became bogged down, almost literally, in the life of a farmer’s wife. . . . My life has been a buried one.” She complains that the farmhouse “and all its contents are like the mud collecting on my boots as I walk the dog round the fields in a rainy season. Holding me back, weighting me down, limiting how far I can travel.” She speaks of feeling that she has “sacrificed my life . . . for nothing” so her life has no meaning because she has “done so little, achieved so little,” always having a sense of being “in the wrong room all my life, the room where nothing was happening.”

Tina also wonders about the road she did not travel: “what is it that I have missed by having closed off so many choices so early in my life?” Anders has similar thoughts: “I wake in the night and wonder if, after all, I have wasted my chances and should have done something different with the time and the talents I have been given.” He thinks about his archaeological work and wonders “whether it was a worthwhile way to spend a life” and asks Tina, “At least what you do produces food. How does what I do benefit anyone?”

The theme is that regardless of age, change is possible. Both Tina and Anders are of an age when “there is more behind us than ahead of us,” but they conclude that “Nothing is so fixed it cannot be altered.” A somewhat homely image of picking raspberries is used to emphasize that a second chance is possible so one does not overlook “many of the fruits in this life.” Tina describes picking berries: “Whenever I pick raspberries, I go as carefully as possible down the row, looking for every ripe fruit. But however careful I am, when I turn round to go back the other way, I find fruit I had not seen when approaching the plants from the opposite direction. Another life, I thought, might be like a second pass down the row of raspberry canes; there would be good things I had not come across in my first life.” The two begin to speak of trying new things as picking raspberries and “the need to pick as many as possible” in the time given.

On the surface, this is a simple novel, but its reflections on life and the passage of time are perceptive. It is a delightful read with an ending some may not like but I think is perfect. Its style reminded me of Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road, but it has a more thoughtful tone. Tina speaks of the Tollund Man and “his serenity, his dignity, his look of wisdom” and that description fits the book: it is serene, dignified and wise.

Note: Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Jan 26, 2019 |
Tina and Anders both have their lives change when Tina sends a letter that can’t be delivered to the original recipient. Tina is reflecting on her childhood and her fascination with the Tulland Man at a museum. She always planned to see it with her friend Bella but many years have passed and she has never gone. She reaches out to someone connected to the original acquisition of the Tulland Man. Her letter would have been unanswered if not for Anders. He feels inclined to write back.

She then writes back to Anders, not expecting a response.
You can see such a meekness in both of them. They are so tentative. They are almost apologetic about wanting a reply. They don’t quite feel confident enough to think someone would care about their letter, that someone would find them interesting.

Each appreciates the other’s correspondence.
They start to talk about their lives and their families.
Tina is married but more begrudgingly than happily.
Anders is (basically) a widower.
They both have children and they both feel they have failed their children in some way.
Tina and Anders can share their sadness, they feel less alone when they write to each other.

The phrase “slowly and carefully” is used several times throughout this book and I think it perfectly describes Tina and Anders growing bond. It also explains the boom itself.
It’s not a long book but it feels like a leisurely one. You aren’t on the edge of your seat, turning pages to see what happens. You are just going along for the ride.

I enjoyed the book but the ending didn’t bring closure for me. Was it supposed to be “slow and careful” too? ( )
  Mishale1 | Dec 29, 2018 |
It sounded like an endearing and sweet premise: A professor in Denmark whose wife has died and a housewife stuck on a farm in England begin a correspondence via old-fashioned letters. They write about the Tollund Man and begin a friendship told only through these letters. And we learn about their lives, their loves and everything in between.

Not so much. It was a slow book with not a lot happening and characters I didn't really come to care about, either. It was short but felt painfully long--it might be the format. The concept was really nice but in some ways it's a story we've seen before: two lonely people begin writing each other and develop a connection without ever seeing each other in person or otherwise.

I'm sure there are others who would like this book (as seen by the high ratings in Goodreads and elsewhere) but this was definitely not a a must read for me. Library but I'd skip it unless you really like these type of books. ( )
  acciolibros | Nov 4, 2018 |
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MODERN & CONTEMPORARY FICTION (POST C 1945). When Tina Hopgood writes a letter of regret to a man she has never met, she doesn't expect a reply. When Anders Larsen, a lonely museum curator, answers it, nor does he. They're both searching for something, they just don't know it yet. Anders has lost his wife, along with his hopes and dreams for the future. Tina is trapped in a marriage she doesn't remember choosing. Slowly their correspondence blossoms as they bare their souls to each other with stories of joy, anguish and discovery. But then Tina's letters suddenly cease, and Anders is thrown into despair. Can their unexpected friendship survive?… (more)

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