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Tag Archives: Carys Bray

The Museum of You by Carys Bray

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When Carys Bray writes, woah, she sure does get you in the feels. Both “The Museum of You” and Bray’s first novel, “A Song for Issy Bradley,” deal with the aftermath of death, but Bray has a wonderful way of illuminating darkness with humour and empathy so the novels remain a pleasure to read.

Clover Quinn’s mother Becky died six weeks after Clover was (unexpectedly) born. Now 12, Clover lives with her bus driver dad, Darren, whose silence on the subject of her mum only fuels her desire to know more. In the long summer holidays, inspired by a school trip to the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Clover attempts to curate an exhibition of her mum, using bits and bobs of belongings that have remained in a cluttered, untouched bedroom for years. Where the novel is strongest is in the relationship between Clover and her dad and in the depiction of him adapting to a life that looks entirely different from how he’d once hoped. Darren is a wonderfully sympathetic character, flawed as all of us are, and very recognisable in his attempts to be the best parent he can.

“He could make jam or something. He remembers the things mum used to make with the raspberries: cheesecakes, trifles, tarts, fools and mousses. They could have a go, him and Clover, she’d like that. He has had these ideas before but it’s a struggle to make them materialise; by the time he gets home there will be something else to occupy his thoughts – the detached radiator, the hall walls, the worry that there may be something else she needs.”

The novel features a supporting cast of characters, the most interesting of whom is Jim, Darren’s troubled brother in law who has mental health issues and is hopeless at self-care. Describing Darren’s feelings towards him – “His kindness comes in bursts and he tires quickly. It was easier in the early days, when it seemed as if it was going to be more of a sprint than a marathon,” succinctly describing the fluctuating resolve of trying to help someone desperately needy who doesn’t seem likely to want to, or be able to, ever change.

Mrs Mackeral is the malapropism yelling next door neighbour who is maybe a little too cartoonish to feel fully realised, but provides some amusing moments. Colin is Darren’s best mate who along with his sister, and Darren’s dad, form a kind of family unit around Clover. Whilst death underpins the narrative, there is a sense of optimism that this wonky group provide.

Clover is deftly drawn and is a character to cheer for. The story is heart warming whilst not shying away from truth.

Towards the end of the book Bray writes,“Grief never goes away. And that’s no bad thing – it’s only the other side of love, after all.”
How beautiful is that?

This is an emotionally honest novel written by a writer who marries real insight with engaging writing.

Smash Lits with Carys Bray

I’m so glad that Carys has taken part in Smash Lits. She wrote one of my favourite books of the year, “A Song For Issy Bradley” which has been widely praised and is now on the prestigious shortlist of the 2014 Costa First Book Prize. Yay Carys! Anyway, without further ado:

1) Ian is described as “Superman in a Burton suit” – who would you be?

That is such a good question – argh! I would be Bibliogirl in an origami dress.

Ooh, I love that!

2) Do you have any recurring dreams?

Yes, and they’re both horrible! One involves my teeth falling out and the other involves a school reunion and the sudden realisation that I’m not wearing enough clothes.

3) Have you ever seen a ghost?

No (and I don’t believe in them).

4) What’s your favourite sweet?

I love Thornton’s Viennese truffles, yum.

5) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

I haven’t watched Neighbours for years. Erm, Libby Kennedy!

6) What’s your most vivid childhood memory?

I remember a whole school assembly in which I had to stand up and receive a dressing down for being late for school that morning. I absolutely wasn’t late – my mum was probably the most organised parent in the universe, I don’t think I was ever late for school – and I was only four. By that evening I was covered in hives and my mum was furious.

7) Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust?

Not spontaneously, no.

8) What colour is Tuesday?

Oh, that’s easy, orange.

9) What is your favourite swear?

I didn’t swear for the first 30 years of my life because swearing was a sin, so I’m a late developer. I quite like near-miss swears, like twunt and nucking-futter.

I adore twunt, it’s such a satisfying word.

10) Tofu VS Bacon. Who wins? Why?

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Bacon. The bacony smell is one of the best smells ever. In fact, I think they should make bacon perfume.

Carys, they do make bacon perfume – lookit.

11) What is the picture on your wall?

I have a picture of ruby slippers and ‘There’s no place like home.’

12) What was the last text you sent?

A text telling son 3 that no, I couldn’t bring his drum sticks and music book to school because I was on a train to Liverpool.

13) How do you organise your book shelves?

I used to organise them by colour but the kids teased me so much that I changed them and now I’ve got short stories in one place and novels/favourite novels, poetry etc. elsewhere.

14) Who would play the character of Claire in the film of your book?

Suranne Jones because she’s a great actress, she’s northern and I think she’d be brilliant at the harried/resigned combo.

15) You are wallpaper. What is your pattern?

Something flocked in red. My violin teacher used to have this amazing red, velvety wallpaper and I remember stroking it as I waited for my lesson to start.

16) Have you ever read someone else’s diary?

Yes. My mum has written in a diary every day since I was born and I sneaked a peek a few times when I was a teenager (I’m pretty sure she returned the favour, so it’s all good).

17) What is your most vivid childhood memory?

I think this is a trick question – it’s one of those memory tests to make sure I can remember the vivid childhood memory I described in answer to number 6!

Oops! 

18) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Margaret Atwood?

I did a little research (because who wouldn’t, if they were going on a picnic with Margaret Atwood) and discovered that she doesn’t answer questions about favourite foods, colours etc. because she has a hard time deciding favourites. I remember reading that she took the Veggie Vows during the tour of The Year of the Flood, so I’d do Greek salad wraps

19) What is your Book of the Year?

Probably All My Puny Sorrows, which I first read about on your blog!

It is stunning isn’t it. So glad you read about it here *chuffed*

20) What question should I have asked you?

I like the questions you asked. It was a relief not to be asked about novel 2 and Mormonism – thank you!

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

 

The Bradley family are devout Mormons. Ian is the Bishop, his wife, Claire, converted to the faith before marrying him and together they are bringing up their four children – Alma, Zippy, Jacob and Issy, following stringent Mormon rules. The author was herself, until relatively recently, a practising Mormon, so it’s fair to assume the book is an accurate representation of family life within the faith, with all the accompanying homilies and entreaties.

Bishop Bradley is big on sacrifice and duty, believing his path to heaven is assured just so long as he devotes himself to serving his church and spreading the word. He prioritises church duties over family duties, which is why it’s left to an overstretched Claire to shop for Jacob’s birthday party and organise the food. Her youngest, Issy, is unwell and tucked up in bed, Claire too busy to pay her much attention until it’s too late and tragically she dies.

It’s Bray’s ability to be quietly devastating that makes the story so affecting. Never mawkish or sentimental, she uses humour and a warm understanding of the human psyche to explore each family member’s thoughts and feelings in turn. They struggle to cope with their grief in very different ways. Jacob believes Issy can be brought back to life with his faith. Zippy focuses her attentions on a classmate she fancies, the only other Mormon at her school, one who she hopes will marry her. Alma lives for football and is the most cynical, yet finds unexpected comfort from one of the Brothers at church. Ian throws himself into his ministry and tries to keep home life going when Claire takes to Issy’s bed and refuses to speak or get up. Claire, overwhelmed with a deep depression that goes unrecognised because it wouldn’t be the done thing, questions her faith and waits for a sign from God. (I won’t plot spoiler, but there was a Claire scene that broke my heart and cemented my absolute dislike of Ian.)

Writing about the beach Bray describes, “The track is sandier now, damp and sticky; gritty, like cake mix.” It’s this descriptive power, employing the everyday and and mixing it with insight, which really elevates this novel. The children’s voices all feel accurate – Jacob aged 7: “There are so many kinds of never. There’s the never Mum uses when she says, “Never talk to strangers; it’s dangerous,” and there’s the never Dad uses when he says, “Never play with your food; it’s bad manners.” But Mum talks to plenty of people she doesn’t know, and Jacob has seen Dad break Oreos in half to lick the creamy bit.” These simple contradictions are followed by larger ones. At the centre of it all, the question why Heavenly Father would take Issy.

A wonderful debut, full of heart.