It’s Spring (no, honest, it is – don’t look at the weather, look at the calendar!) so my thoughts are drifting almost inexorably towards dreams of holidays. I’m not much of a one for sitting on beaches – I don’t tan, get too hot and the sands gets between the pages of whatever I’m reading – and I don’t do long haul flights so Europe is as exotic as I get. I love to visit a new city, see its history, try its food and drink and generally mooch around feeling all ‘continental’*. As you can imagine large parts of my hard-earned time off is spent in some kind of cafe (or on a train) with a drink and a book. In fact, this could be my definition of bliss.
Seni Glaister’s Museum of Things Left Behind is the story of one such holiday – although maybe with slightly more excitement than I usually experience. Lizzie arrives (by train – my kind of heroine) in the fictional country of Vallerosa and, due to a slight miscalculation, is greeted as if she were a representative of the British Royal Family. The country is tiny, forgotten by the rest of Europe (even during periods of global warfare!) and seems to run on tradition and tea. To be honest, by this point I’m virtually booking my ticket!
Vallerosa is a country steeped in its isolation. In some ways very advanced – the education system is impressive – but in others quite old-fashioned. The political posts, in fact all rôles, seem to be hereditary and women’s rights appear to be set in the early C20th (if they are that advanced) but somehow you warm to the place. The real baddies seem to be the American ‘business consultants’ trying to control the country via the tea trade. Some of the country’s practices – medical staff at the hospital only tend to their patient’s medical needs, all washing, feeding and social care is provided by their families – seem almost backward to us but are only what we were used to in living memory. The medical care is certainly modern enough. The author’s tone is quite approving of some things which don’t sit well with our modern sensibilities but the otherworldliness is part of the book’s charm.
Charming and quirky are the two words I would use to describe this novel if you were cruel enough to limit me. Let me sneak in a couple more and I would add heart-warming and satisfying – this will be a great summer read in the cafés of Europe.
*Barcelona is the city I will be sipping wine and reading in this summer – maybe this will be my time to read The Shadow of the Wind?