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