Anne Youngson’s debut novel, Meet Me at the Museum, is a book you might find yourself finishing in one go. Mrs. Tina Hopgood is an English farmer’s wife, and Anders Larsen a widowed curator at a museum in Denmark. Though a common interest in one of the museum exhibits brings them together, Anders and Tina soon begin sharing increasingly personal stories and thoughts from their lives, including some never spoken of before. It is touching and uplifting to follow along as their relationship develops, solely through their letters, particularly when Anders notes, “we have both arrived at the same point in our lives. More behind us than ahead of us. Paths chosen that define us. Enough time left to change.” There is much to be charmed by in this epistolary novel, and Meet Me at the Museum is sure to find a welcome home beside bestsellers like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
We asked Youngson about the inspiration for Meet Me at the Museum and she shared her story in the exclusive piece below.
*Meet Me at the Museum is our August Best Books of the Month Debut Spotlight pick.
Meet Me at The Museum is a novel about life, principally about the life of two people who have lived for six decades and are wondering what has been worthwhile, what has been missed and what is still to come. In these circumstances, it might seem a little strange that the inspiration for the book is the body of a man who died two thousand years ago and was buried in a bog, but so it is. The Tollund Man, excavated in Denmark in the 1950s, has the most peaceful, wise and kind face, yet he died by violence. These facts, and the image of his face, have stayed with me since I first learnt about him from Seamus Heaney’s wonderful poem, but I could not then imagine a way to make this a starting point for a story. When I finally read the definitive book written by a Danish Archaeologist about bog bodies, I found it was dedicated, in the form of a letter, to a class of schoolgirls from the East of England. It seemed at once that nothing could be more natural than that one of these schoolgirls, in her late middle-age, would pick up a pen and write back, trying to make a connection between this significant event in her childhood and the life she has led. A reply to her letter comes from a museum curator, and so a correspondence begins.
The English farmer’s wife, Tina, and the Danish curator, Anders, share their grief about a recent loss, their hopes and fears for their children, and the details of their lives which are both different and yet similar. But also present in their letters are the themes of what lasts, of the past reaching out to the present, of maintaining hope for the future, which were the thoughts that occurred to me when I first saw the Tollund Man’s face. It is as if, a perceptive reader suggested to me, the Iron Age figure is protecting and inspiring them as they write. So while this is not a book about the Iron Age, or archaeology, it is about enduring, and understanding your place in the world, and it would not have been written if the bog had not preserved this man’s body and the archaeologists had not excavated and preserved it a second time. -- Anne Youngson