An eccentric museum in a neglected, stately English home becomes a heart-opening site of revelation, renewal, and second chances for a widow and her son.
A broken heart, a guilty conscience, a special needs child, homelessness, and joblessness are just the starting points for Harris’ busily plotted second novel, which draws inspiration from a real Victorian curiosity of a museum in southern England, where the author grew up. Enjoyably readable but overloaded, the narrative puts 54-year-old Cate Morris, still missing her husband, Richard, who died four years earlier by suicide, through the emotional wringer. Forced to relocate from London with Leo, her 19-year-old son, who has Down syndrome, Cate turns up at Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World, where Richard’s long-dead grandfather, Colonel Hugo, assembled an extraordinary collection of stuffed animals and other artifacts harvested on trips to Africa and Asia. The museum is under threat, and Cate will try to save it, but her efforts are complicated by skeptical trustees, animal rights activists, a fire, and the inscrutable activities of an old retainer with links to the colonel. Cate’s emotional roller coaster swoops through bursts of introspection and self-recrimination interspersed with happier episodes with Leo and also Patch, a local artist and surprisingly ardent new lover. These mood swings, from grief and regret to rebirth and fairy tale—like the whistle-while-you-work team of locals that arrives to restore Hatters to order after the fire or Leo’s heroic speech to the nasty trustees—generate an unpredictability of tone, but Harris’ tale-spinning is good enough to keep the forward momentum going, often at breakneck speed. That a conclusion will be reached and that it will be satisfying are never in doubt.
The clouds of a formulaic setup disperse to reveal a charmingly clear blue sky.
Pub Date: today
Page Count: 336
Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020