Sunday, February 07, 2016

Lost property cupboard

This is my Lost Property Cupboard theory of the afterlife — when we die we are taken to a great Lost Property Cupboard where all the things we have ever lost have been kept for us — every hairgrip, every button and pencil, every tooth, every earring and key, every pin (think how many there must be!). All the library books, all the cats that never came back, all the coins, all the watches (which will still be keeping time for us). And perhaps, too, the other less tangible things — tempers and patience (perhaps Patricia's virginity will be there), religion (Kathleen has lost hers), meaning, innocence (mine) and oceans of time — Mr Belling and Bunty will find a lot of time in their cupboard. Mr Belling is always sitting at the wheel of the Rover, parked in the driveway, looking at his watch and fuming, "Do you know how much time we've lost waiting for you, Ruby? On the lower shelves will be the dreams we forgot on waking, nestling against the days lost to melancholy thoughts (if they paid dividends Patricia would be rich). And right down at the bottom of the cupboard, amongst the silt and fluff and feather, the pencil shavings and hair swept up from hairdressers' floors — that's where you find the lost memories. Deinde ipsa, virum suum complexa, in mare se deiecit. And perhaps we can sign our names and take them home with us.
Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum is the story of Ruby Lennox, beginning with her conception, and of various things — a button, a rabbit's foot — commemorated in footnotes, telling of the three generations of (primarily) women before her.

Atkinson has discussed the title, but I have my own ideas. There's only one scene, in the book, in an actual museum, the Castle Museum, and it references Ruby's dream about the museum at night, the secret museum, where things came to life. The museum may as well be a symbol of marriage, what is meant to be seen, and this novel's footnotes show us the secret workings.

Like her most recent books, this novel — Atkinson's debut — also had me laughing out loud, and it made me weep; we live such stupid lives and die such stupid deaths and spend so much time misunderstanding each other. If it weren't so ridiculous and random we'd die from the tragedy of it.

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