Meet Me at the Museum

MEET ME AT THE MUSEUM


In Denmark, Professor Anders Larsen, an urbane man of facts, has lost his wife and his hopes for the future. On an isolated English farm, Tina Hopgood is trapped in a life she doesn’t remember choosing. Both believe their love stories are over.

Brought together by a shared fascination with the Tollund Man, subject of Seamus Heaney’s famous poem, they begin writing letters to one another. And from their vastly different worlds, they find they have more in common than they could have imagined. As they open up to one another about their lives, an unexpected friendship blooms.

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In Denmark, Professor Anders Larsen, an urbane man of facts, has lost his wife and his hopes for the future. On an isolated English farm, Tina Hopgood is trapped in a life she doesn’t remember choosing. Both believe their love stories are over.

Brought together by a shared fascination with the Tollund Man, subject of Seamus Heaney’s famous poem, they begin writing letters to one another. And from their vastly different worlds, they find they have more in common than they could have imagined. As they open up to one another about their lives, an unexpected friendship blooms. But then Tina’s letters stop coming, and Anders is thrown into despair. How far are they willing to go to write a new story for themselves?

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  • Flatiron Books
  • Paperback
  • August 2019
  • 288 Pages
  • 9781250295170

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About Anne Youngson

Anne Youngson is the author of Meet Me at the MuseumAnne Youngson is retired and lives in Oxfordshire. She has two children and three grandchildren to date. Meet Me at the Museum is her first novel and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award.

Praise

Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award
An Indie Next and LibraryReads Selection

“The charmer of the summer…A touching, hopeful story about figuring out what matters and mustering the courage to make necessary changes.” —NPR

“How subtle. How perceptive… Meet Me at the Museum is gently provoking, delving into how we interact with our children, our spouses, our communities, but mostly with ourselves.” Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A farmer’s wife and a museum curator begin a life-changing correspondence in this lovely book by Anne Youngson, a first-time novelist at age 70.” Woman’s Day (Editor’s Choice)

“A beautiful, moving, and utterly mesmerizing tale about life, love, and starting over, Meet Me at the Museum will make even the most cynical listeners believe in second chances.”
—Bustle

“Beautifully written and deeply moving, Meet Me at the Museum is a superb—and tenderhearted—debut that will interest anyone who’s ever questioned how they became the person they are today.” —Shelf Awareness

“This sweet novel, which unfolds through a series of letters, is a short but spellbinding story of life and friendship.” —Hello Giggles

“A thoughtful meditation on buried passions, regrets, love, grief, and loneliness. But Youngson’s debut offers hope for change in its tender exploration of what it means to have experienced a life well-lived.” The Guardian

“Already being hailed as a classic…Absolutely beautiful, about loss and the life choices we make.”Daily Mail

“Warm-hearted, clear-minded, and unexpectedly spellbinding, Meet Me at the Museum is a novel to savor.”  —Annie Barrows, #1 New York Times bestselling co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“Precise, clear, funny, poignant, and truthful. This is a work of art, dear readers. Revel in its beauty.” Adriana Trigiani, New York Times bestselling author of The Shoemaker’s Wife and Lucia, Lucia

 

Discussion Questions

1. Meet Me at the Museum is an epistolary novel, meaning it is written entirely in letters. How is reading an epistolary novel different than reading more traditional first-person narration? What is lost and gained in this form?

2. Is there anyone in your life with whom you regularly correspond, rather than meeting in person or talking on the phone? Discuss the differences between those types of interactions.

3. In her first letter, Tina writes, “I am writing to you to see if you can help me make sense of some of the thoughts that occur to me. Or maybe I am hoping that just writing will make sense of them.” Later, she tells Anders, “I have become clearer to myself as I made myself clear to you.” How does writing to one another change the way the characters approach their lives and identities?

4. Tina and her best friend, Bella, always planned to go to Denmark together to visit the Tollund Man, but they never made it. Is there something you’ve always meant to do yet keep putting off? What has stopped you?

5. The Tollund Man provides the initial reason for Tina and Anders’ correspondence, and he frequently comes up in their letters. What does he represent for Tina? For Anders?

6. Anders tells Tina about a debate he has at work about making up names for the bog people in the museum (i.e., naming the Tollund Man “Knut”): “To give them names, said the marketing people, would make them seem more human. But, I said (and not only me, fortunately), to give them names would make them only human, rob them of their mystery.” What do you think he means? Do you agree? Have you had a particularly memorable, powerful experience at a natural history or archaeology museum?

7. Anders argues: “Superstition is such a scornful word, applied by rational people to anything that appears not to be a rational belief, not seeing there is beauty and meaning and purpose in putting aside everything that can be explained and imagining something quite miraculous in, for example, an unfurling fern frond.” Do you agree? Discuss the importance of superstition, myth, and ritual in this novel. How does the natural world (i.e., a fern) play into that?

8. Tina describes a main difference between her lifestyle and Anders’ as “mine in the midst of the landscape and change, yours caught up with objects fixed by time.” How does that difference affect their outlooks? Which is more similar to your own lifestyle?

9. Tina tells Anders: “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 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, but I suspect I would find much of the fruit was already in my basket.” What does she mean? How does this analogy resonate throughout the novel? What are the metaphorical raspberries in your own life that you would like to pick on a second pass?

10. Anders and Tina often discuss their adult children. Anders writes: “I am ashamed to say I don’t remember ever having understood it was my job to make my children happy.” Tina agrees, and takes it further: “We should look inside ourselves for fulfillment. It is not fair to burden children or grandchildren with the obligation to make us whole. Our obligation to them is to make them safe and provide them with an education.” Do you agree with this approach to parenting? Why or why not?

11. We aren’t told how old Anders and Tina are, but they are both grandparents. Anders tells Tina: “Our letters have meant so much to us because 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.” How does age affect the way these characters approach their relationship? How would their story differ if they were in their twenties, for instance? Discuss the ways in which Anders and Tina change over the course of the novel. 12. Discuss Anders and Tina’s first marriages. Why do they stay with their spouses, when Birgitt was so difficult to live with and Edward has so little in common with Tina? Was staying the right thing to do?

13. Do you think there is any similarity between Tina’s friendship with Anders and her husband Edward’s affair with Daphne Trigg? Why or why not? Did you feel any sympathy for Edward or Daphne?

14. The ending of the novel is left ambiguous: we never see Tina and Anders actually meet. Do you believe they will? What do you imagine their lives looking like in a year? In five years?

Excerpt

Bury St. Edmunds

November 22

Dear Professor Glob,

Although we have never met, you dedicated a book to me once; to me, thirteen of my schoolmates, and your daughter. This was more than fifty years ago, when I was young. And now I am not. This business, of being no longer young, is occupying much of my mind these days, and I am writing to you to see if you can help me make sense of some of the thoughts that occur to me. Or maybe I am hoping that just writing will make sense of them, because I have little expectation that you will reply. For all I know, you may be dead.

One of these thoughts is about plans never fulfilled. You know what I mean—if you are still alive you must be a very old man by now and it must have occurred to you that what you thought would happen, when you were young, never did. For example, you might have promised yourself you would try a sport or a hobby or an art or a craft. And now you find you have lost the physical dexterity or stamina to take it up. There will be reasons why you never did, but none of them is good enough. None of them is the clincher. You cannot say: I planned to take up oil painting but I couldn’t because I turned out to be allergic to a chemical in the paint. It is just that life goes on from day to day and that one moment never arrives. In my case, I promised myself I would travel to Denmark and visit the Tollund Man. And I have not. I know, from the book you dedicated to me, that only his head is preserved, not his beautiful hands and feet. But his face is enough. His face, as it appears on the cover of your book, is pinned up on my wall; I see it every day. Every day I am reminded of his serenity, his dignity, his look of wisdom and resignation. It is like the face of my grandmother, who was dear to me. I still live in East Anglia, and how far is it to the Silkeborg Museum? Six hundred miles as the crow flies? As far as Edinburgh and back. I have been to Edinburgh and back.

All this is not the point, though it is puzzling. What is wrong with me that I have not made the so small effort needed when the face of the Tollund Man is so central to my thoughts?

It is cold in East Anglia, windy cold, and I have knitted myself a balaclava to keep my neck and ears and head warm when I walk the dog. As I pass the mirror in the hall on the way out of the door, I notice myself in profile and I think how like my grandmother I have become. And, being like my grandmother, my face has become the face of the Tollund Man. The same hollowness of cheek, the same beakiness of nose. As if I have been preserved for two thousand years and am still continuing to be. Is it possible, do you think, that I belong, through whatever twisted threads, to the family of the Tollund Man? I’m not trying to make myself special in any way, you understand. There must be other people of the family, thousands of them. I see other people of my age, on buses, or walking their dogs, or waiting for their grandchildren to choose an ice cream from the van, who have the same contours to their faces, the same blend of peacefulness, humanity, and pain. There are far more who have none of these things, though. Whose faces are careless or undefined or pinched or foolish.

The truth is, I do want to be special. I want there to be significance in the connection made between you and me in 1964 and links back to the man buried in the bog two thousand years ago. I am not very coherent. Please do not bother to reply if you think I do not justify your time.

Yours Sincerely,

T. Hopgood (Mrs.)

 

Silkeborg Museum

Denmark

December 10

Dear Mrs. Hopgood,

I refer to your letter addressed to Professor Glob. Professor Glob died in 1985. If he had still been alive, he would by now be over 100 years old, which is not impossible, but is unlikely.

I believe you are asking two questions in your letter:

i. Is there any reason why you should not visit the museum?

ii. Is there any possibility you are distantly related to the Tollund Man?

In answer to the first, I would encourage you to make the effort, which need not be very great, to visit us here. There are regular flights from Stansted, or, if you prefer, from Heathrow or Gatwick, to Aarhus airport, which is the most convenient for arriving in Silkeborg. The museum is open every day between 10 and 5. Here you can see the Elling Woman as well as the Tollund Man, and an exhibition that looks at all aspects of those who lived in the Iron Age; for instance, what they believed in, how they lived, how they mined and worked the mineral that gives the period its name. I must also correct something you said in your letter. Although only the head of the Tollund Man is preserved, the rest of the body has been re-created, so the figure you will see, if you visit us here, will look just as it did when it was recovered from the bog, including the hands and the feet.

In answer to your second question, the Center for GeoGenetics at our Naturhistorisk Museum is at the moment trying to extract some DNA from the Tollund Man’s tissues, which would help us to understand his genetic links to the present-day population of Denmark. You will have read, in Professor Glob’s book, that the index finger of the Tollund Man’s right hand shows an ulnar loop pattern that is common to 68 percent of the Danish people, which gives us confidence that this study will find such links. Through the Vikings, who came later to Denmark but will have interbred with the existing population, there is most likely some commonality of genes to the population of the UK. So, I would say, it is quite possible that there is a family connection, however slight, between yourself and the Tollund Man.

I hope this information is helpful to you, and look forward to meeting you if you visit us here.

Regards,

The Curator

Copyright © 2019 by Anne Youngson