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The Museum of Forgotten Memories

“Moving.” —Booklist (starred review)

At Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World, where the animals never age but time takes its toll, one woman must find the courage to overcome the greatest loss of her life.

Four years after her husband Richard’s death, Cate Morris is let go from her teaching job and unable to pay rent on the London flat she shares with her son, Leo. With nowhere else to turn, they pack up and venture to Richard’s ancestral Victorian museum in the small town of Crouch-on-Sea.

Despite growing pains and a grouchy caretaker, Cate begins to fall in love with the quirky taxidermy exhibits and sprawling grounds, and she makes it her mission to revive them. But threats from both inside and outside the museum derail her plans and send her spiraling into self-doubt.

As Cate becomes more invested in Hatters, she must finally confront the reality of Richard’s death—and the role she played in it—in order to reimagine her future. Perfect for fans of Katherine Center and Evvie Drake Starts Over.

This reading group guide for The Museum of Forgotten Memories includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Cate Morris thought she’d met her match in Simon at university—until she laid eyes on his best friend, Richard. Cate and Richard felt an immediate and undeniable spark, but Richard also felt the weight of the world more deeply than most.

Now, four years after Richard’s suicide, Cate is let go from her teaching job and can’t pay rent on the London flat she shares with her and Richard’s son, Leo. She packs the two of them up and ventures to Richard’s grandfather’s old Victorian museum, Hatters, in the small town of Crouch-on-Sea, where the dusty staff quarters await her. Despite growing pains and a grouchy caretaker, Cate falls in love with the quirky taxidermy exhibits and sprawling grounds, and she makes it her mission to revive them. When the museum is faced with closing because of a lack of visitors, Cate stages a grand reopening, but threats from both inside and outside the museum derail her plans and send her spiraling into self-doubt.

As Cate becomes more invested in Hatters, she must finally confront the reality of Richard’s death—and the role she played in it—in order to reimagine her future. Perfect for fans of Katherine Center’s How to Walk Away and Linda Holmes’s Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Consider the book title, The Museum of Forgotten Memories. What “forgotten memories” do you think the title is referring to? Do you think the title refers to the people attached to the museum and the wider family, or the exhibits inside that have been removed from their original settings?

2. Cate reminisces about the first time she met—and fell in love—with Richard: “I knew straightaway. I knew before he sat down, before he spoke. . . . Rich put his hand out and shook mine. I looked into his eyes and knew that he felt exactly the same way” (page 8). Do you believe in love at first sight? How might it be different from love that takes time to develop? Discuss the different types of love and relationships in this novel.

3. When Cate and Leo arrive to the museum for the first time, Cate accidentally hits a fox running across the road with her car. What does this accidental loss symbolize or foreshadow within the context of the novel? How does it come full circle by the last chapter?

4. The first time Cate sees the museum’s collection, she is startled by how “barbaric” it is (page 49). Araminta, however, feels differently, explaining that the original goal of the museum was to bring animals and artifacts to people who otherwise would never see them. Do you think that Hugo’s goal, and his decision to create elaborate taxidermy exhibits, was just? What do you think modern conservationists would say about the museum? Can museums like this still be relevant today?

5. Curtis quickly becomes one of Leo’s best friends, in spite of their differences. What do you think draws Curtis and Leo together, and why does it take Cate so long to trust Curtis? Is it ever fair to judge someone by a first impression? Why or why not?

6. Consider the opening lines of the novel: “A house absorbs happiness; it blooms into the wallpaper, the wood of the window frames, the bricks: that’s how it becomes a home” (page 1). When Cate and Leo first come to the museum, it’s anything but; as Cate dryly remarks, their rooms are “like something you’d expect to find if you took an academic residency in the oldest university in the country, or the matron’s job at an expensive but ancient private school” (page 22). At what point in the novel does Hatters become a home to Cate and Leo? Was there a particular moment that finally made it so, or was it more gradual? Compare your thoughts with your book club members. You may be surprised by the answers!

7. Although Richard clearly suffered from mental illness, the author never specifies what his illness was, or how exactly he died. Why do you think she purposefully chose to make this vague? How would knowing Richard’s diagnosis or the manner of his death have changed your impression of the novel, if at all?

8. The Greek myth of Atalanta and Hippomenes—and the statues of them in the Hatters garden—play a very important role in this novel. Do you think these mythological figures are symbolic of two characters in the book? If yes, who and why? If no, what else might they represent?

9. Cate blames herself and Simon, in part, for Richard’s death. Do you think this blame is fair? How has this incident affected her in terms of being able to move on with her life? Why else might her grief be so fresh, even four years after his death? Discuss with your book club.

10. Cate has romantic attachments to three men in this novel: Richard, Simon, and Patch. How are all of these relationships similar? How are they different?

11. Araminta blames Cate for the attack on the museum. Do you think that this is justified? How do you view this blame in light of the big secret that Araminta later shares? Why does Araminta feel so responsible to the museum and to Hugo, even after she’s been forced to keep secrets for all these years?

12. When Cate arrives back to the museum after the fire, she remarks in wonder, “Leo pulled me through that smoke. Leo saved my life” (page 198). In what other ways has Leo “saved” Cate?

13. The fire, despite the external damage it causes, is cleansing for Cate. Why do you think it—and the hallucinations she has about the animals and Richard—has “scorched away the paralyses; the immobility of grief . . . given me new life” (page 202)?

14. “I don’t miss Patch like I miss Simon. I can’t miss someone who never really existed, whose character was merely one more of his beautiful creations, a veil that he had created, painted with all the shades I thought I needed” (page 307). Was Patch’s betrayal a surprise to you? Do you think he ever really loved Cate? Why or why not?

15. A major theme of this novel is duty—Araminta’s duty to the museum; Cate’s duty to care for Leo; Hugo’s duty to protect his family’s secret. In what other ways is duty a theme of this novel? Have the characters carried out their duties by the novel’s end?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World is a legacy of all the philanthropic work that Hugo Lyons-Morris did for Crouch-on-Sea, and as a result, the entire town comes together to help restore the museum after the protest and fire. Find a way to give back to your own community by visiting a local museum or historical society with your book club. While there, discuss the importance of such places. How do local museums and historical societies serve their communities? Why is it important to support and maintain them? What is their legacy, and what can you, as a community member, do to protect them?

2. Leo has Down syndrome, but he never lets that get in the way of allowing himself to make friends or live his life to the fullest. Consider volunteering for Best Buddies with your book club, an international organization that partners people of different abilities with each other to form meaningful friendships. Or sign up for a 5K or charity walk to raise money for such organizations. Discuss the value of friendships with those who might have different abilities from yours, or those who come from different backgrounds or cultures. How do those friendships help your personal growth, or help you to see the world from a different perspective? What’s one of the most surprising or valuable things you’ve learned from these friendships? Why is it important for us to have them? Discuss with your book club.

3. The ancient Greek myth of Atalanta and Hippomenes has many alternative versions. Araminta’s favorite version is the one in which Aphrodite turns both Atalanta and Hippomenes into lions after Hippomenes forgets to thank her for helping him win Atalanta’s heart. This ending is a nod to the “Lyons-Morris” name. Have your book club members choose their own Greek myth that they’d like to rewrite. Consider changing a character’s name or the outcome of the story, to give it a more personal touch. Then have each book club member share both the original and rewritten myth with the entire group. How does the new version change the meaning of the myth? What is the benefit or value of family “myths” or stories? How do they shape future generations, or teach them about a family’s legacy?

4. Patch’s art class is a huge draw for the community. It connects Cate with Poppy, whose art is invaluable in the grand relaunch of the museum; it also allows Leo to meet his beloved Sophie. Art, just like museums, has the power to bring people together. To further bond with your book club, visit a local “paint and sip” studio, where you can all paint the same thing together while enjoying a glass of wine! Once your paintings are finished, compare them. How is it possible that depictions of the same thing can look so different? How is this a metaphor for experiences we might have, or memories we might share? In what ways can making art (while drinking wine!) bring us together? Exchange paintings with your book club members so everyone can have a little piece of the group to take home.

Stay updated on Anstey Harris’s latest projects. Visit her website at www.ansteyharris.com, follow her on Twitter @Anstey_Harris and Instagram @ansteyharris, and connect with her at Facebook.com/ansteyharris to learn about some of her other books and to find out what she’s working on next.
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Anstey Harris teaches creative writing for Canterbury Christ Church University and in the community with her own company, Writing Matters. She has been featured in various literary magazines and anthologies, been shortlisted for many prizes, and won the H G Wells Short Story Award. Anstey lives in Kent, UK and is the mother of the singer-songwriter Lucy Spraggan.

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