Clover Quinn has been raised by her father Darren. Her mother, Becky, has been missing from her life since she was a baby. Darren has raised Clover by himself, floundering in the unknown world of caring for a baby and raising a girl. Now on the cusp of being a teenager, and trusted to look after herself for the holidays, Clover decides to tackle the spare room where her mother’s belongings are stored. She is going to sort through the items and present them to Darren, creating a museum of Becky Brookfield.
There is a shadow of sadness that runs through this novel. It hangs in the air of the house Clover inhabits with her father, hidden in between the items Darren keeps ‘just in case they ever need it’. It has always been present, shaping the absence of her mother so it’s almost palpable.
It’s a gently told story of living with the absence of someone, of how their memory, or lack thereof, can affect people differently and shape the course of their lives. For Clover, it is as if something is missing from herself, by not knowing Becky she is somehow incomplete. For Darren, he tries to protect Clover by not talking in great detail about her mother and in doing so, allows himself to be selfish in keeping Becky for himself.
This is however one of the few times he acts by putting his own feelings first, and it is done so unknowingly. Darren is portrayed as a patient man, bound by the losses in his life to care a little more for those that remain; his father, who rarely leaves the house, Becky’s brother, who suffers his own illnesses and of course Clover. Clover herself is beautifully portrayed. She is on the confusing cusp, walking the line between child and adult, seeing the world from the edges of both. She still has a child-like belief things, as she notes when she begins to clear the second bedroom and catalogue the ‘exhibits’, attaching histories to items that are contradicted when Darren’s memories of the same objects are revealed in his narratives.
Clover’s museum acts as a catalyst for Darren, allowing him to release feelings he hadn’t been overtly aware he was retaining, giving him the permission he needs to live again, rather than exist solely for Clover and others. As for Clover, it allows her to find out part of her heritage, to see where her other half comes from. And to also find out more about her father, to view him in a new light.
The other characters all add layers to the tale, be it Darren’s dad, dealing with his own grief in his own way, Uncle Jimmy or Mrs Mackeral, who’s loud misquotes lend a comedic air to the novel. Dagmar adds another youthful edge to the story, allowing Clover the chance to see that everyone else’s lives aren’t always perfect and to open up the possibility of a peer friendship.
Moving and well told, this is a considered portrait of what make us who we are, how we are defined by the people around us but also by those who are absent.