Tuesday, July 14, 2009

There Is No Frigate Like A Book.....

“The past is a cupboard full of light and all you have to do is find the key that opens the door.

These sagacious words spring from the voice of Ruby Lennox, in the closing chapter of the most wonderful novel to come my way in ages,
Behind the Scenes at the Museum, by Kate Atkinson. This incandescent tale of a young girl growing up in the northern British city of York is ostensibly the wry and charming record of several generations of her family, warts and all, but it is also a shining three-way mirror that reflects much more than it pretends as, over and over, it gifts the reader with poignant, piercing examples of those universal moments we all recognize from our own families. Moments of tragedy, hope, disappointment and grace.

From the very first line of the book when our wise and witty heroine finds herself conceived and celebrates that fact by announcing proudly, “I’m alive!”, I knew I was in for something special. So many books are published every month, with tantalizing covers and enticing press releases. But it seems a rare thing when, in the midst of this sardined sea of words, a truly original voice bobs to the surface, with a unique way of bending the language to relate a story that no one else could tell. Such is the voice of Kate Atkinson in this marvelous book, which remarkably, was her first.

I realize I prattle on about books quite a bit, and this time I am more than a trifle late to the party, for
Behind the Scenes at the Museum won the Whitbread award in 1995. Nonetheless, if there are any other latecomers like myself out there unfamiliar with this book, take it from me.... you owe it to yourself to read it.
It is the perfect entertainment for a summer afternoon, witty, funny and oh, so wise.

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry -
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll;
How frugal is the Chariot

That bears the Human soul!

Emily Dickinson


  1. count me as a latecomer - I have added it to my list - and may I say, Emily had it right! :)

  2. I never say no to books. They are my best friends.

  3. Thank you Pamela, I was just wondering what to read next in our cold and rainy weather. At long last we have real rain so it is time for a thick soup and crusty bread and a good book.

  4. I do like book recommendations. Have you tried the Goodreads web site?

  5. You always pass on the very best suggestions. It's now on my 'to-read' list. So many books~so little time!

  6. Oh yes, I think I would love this book...and I too am a latecomer...never heard of it.

    Emily D is so profound...the frigate imagery seems heavy until you understand that she is talking in part about death. Thanks for sharing this excellent book review and poem.

  7. Hello P&E,

    As a Yorkshireman, perhaps I should read this book!

  8. Your illustration reminds me of another of Emily Dickinson's poems- "Exultation is the going
    Of an inland soul to sea,
    Past the houses -- past the headlands --
    Into deep Eternity".

    I think that "Behind the scenes at the museum" stands the test of time so it does not matter when it is discovered.

  9. Thank you for the enticing review, more of the same please, books are like pearls to me. I've also just realised that your style reminds me of George Eliot, you are talented.

    I have a taste of humour on my blog to indulge your inner (and outer) anglophile.

  10. Pamela, do feel free to prattle on as much as you like. I am putting Kate Atkinson on my TBR list.

    I love the picture you chose, a perfect summer reading place!

  11. Yes Pamela, she is a good author, and has written several books since then - I can recommend them all.

  12. I'm intrigued... I'll definitely give it a look. And I don't think there's any such thing as a "latecomer" when it comes to books... you read them when they're right for your life.
    Beautiful painting, by the way. Love that blue and green! ;)

  13. Thank you, Pamela. That was an excellent review. I shall definitely seek the book and read it.

  14. Keep prattling on please!

    I have Kate Atkinson's Case Histories on my shelf waiting its turn...after reading this I may put this book ahead of it!

    Love the Emily Dickinson poem...Thanks!

  15. Thanks, Pamela! There is nothing I like better than a good book recommendation! I'm adding this to my library's "on hold" list!

  16. Nice review. I love the painting, too. White Cliffs of Dover?

  17. Yes.. a truly original voice...like your's:)
    Beautiful poem from Emily....

  18. Great book I agree, it did very well over here.
    I LOVE that picture, title? who is the artist?
    Love poem too, thanks Pamela.

  19. im a latecomer, i always am when it comes to books, so many to read, so little time. thanking you for the recommendation !

  20. Love Emily Dickinson Pamela and I am sold on the book. I will be getting it as soon as I can. I usually find it difficult to get time to read fiction but this sounds just up my street. Thanks for the recommendation in advance.

  21. Great review of what looks to be a most interesting novel. Thanks for telling me about it. I love the painting too. I enjoyed how you integrated reading, poetry and art all in one post. Your “sardined sea of words” is worth quoting itself.

  22. it's a good read isn't it? Even more than that book though I enjoyed Kate Atkinson's book of short stories Not the End of the World....

  23. I've added it to my list - reserved on the library website. Thank you!

  24. As I toddle about catching up on my visitations it is to this blog and all its posts that I linger longest.
    Your words resonate and touch us in a place we often overlook in our busy daily lives.
    The sunflower post took me right into the fields, listening to the bees, almost blinded by their golden reflection and covered in pollen. And then the image at the seashore... sadness of a life ending too soon and the wonder of all that could have been.
    Thankyou Pamela for your reflective sharing of words many of us find hard to write.
    xo Susan

  25. Ah, wonderful book - I read it a few years ago now but must revisit it I think! So glad you have found it and enjoyed it:)

  26. I love the comparison to a frigate...it is quite apt! Thanks for the wonderful tip, I'm always on the lookout for books to add to my pile.

  27. Oh yes books are my opening into other worlds past and present,I am always glad to add a new title....
    Love the picture, I could dive into that water it is fabulous.
    Hope you are having a good summer with lots of lazy book days and Edward is not to hot.
    Hugs Lynn xx

  28. It is a fantastic book isn't it? It made me literally laugh aloud but bits of it were almost unbearably painful too.

    I might read it again...

    Love that picture.

  29. I agree its a wonderful book.
    May I recommend 'Fugitive Pieces' by Anne Michaels?

  30. I've never heard of this, but I will have to add it to my (very long) list of to-reads! Thanks for sharing. xx

  31. Yes, I'll be reading this one.

    I've just finished WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS, my introduction to Kate Atkinson. Thoroughly enjoyed it, an exhilerating read. She's a great writer. Found the book at Heathrow Airport on the way back here in May. A cover note started.......In a quiet corner of rural DEVON......and intrigued me, and, as I needed something to pass those long 8+ hours crossing the pond, it was my choice.....what a great one!

  32. I've been scanning through the posts that I've missed while on vacation and these words jumped out at me.

    Some years ago I organized a large Book Fair and the theme was "Travel by Book" - from Dickinson's poem of course!

    I remember reading this book when it first came out, and your lovely review makes me want to read it again. You describe it so well: the originality of the voice.


I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!