Have you ever noticed that extraordinary things only seem to happen to ordinary people?
In real life. In films. In books. Especially in books.
Take for example, Mr. Berger of “The Museum of Literary Souls” by John Connolly (ebook, StoryFront, 2013). Mr. Berger, the protagonist of this story leads a rather dull existence of unvarying routine.
He is single, never been married, and lives alone in London. He works for the housing department of a rather minor council as an Assistant Registrar.
His position as registrar paid neither badly nor particularly well but was enough to keep him clothed and fed, and maintain a roof above his head. Most of the remainder went on books. Mr. Berger led a life of imagination, fed by stories. His flat was lined with shelves, and those shelves were filled with books that he loved…
Mr Berger might sometimes have been a little lonely, but he was never bored and never unhappy, and he counted his days by the books he read.
In all probability, Mr. Berger might have continued living his life in a similar manner for the rest of his life, if not for his mother’s death. Her bequest, though not a great fortune by any standards, was enough for him to resign from his job, move into his mother’s house in the countryside, and attempt to live out his dream of becoming a writer. A new routine developed, another unvarying one that included reading, writing, walks in the countryside and an occasional visit to the local pub.
One evening something happened. Something that shifted the equilibrium in his carefully ordered life.
On his evening stroll near a railway line, Mr Berger sees a woman with a red handbag in the distance hurrying towards the railway track. She looks familiar, but Mr. Berger can’t place her. As the train comes closer, the woman makes a sudden dash and throws herself in front of it. Mr. Berger is understandably horrified and hurries to look for her body, but finds no trace of it. No bloody body parts, nothing. In fact it is almost as if he imagined it.
A few weeks later, Mr. Berger’s is walking along the same stretch of the railway line at around the same time when he sees the woman with the handbag. This time too she is walking towards the railway line in readiness to throw herself in the train’s path. Mr. Berger runs towards her shouting all the time to prevent her from doing so. The woman with the red handbag is startled and in the few distracted minutes misses the train. Frustrated, she runs away with Mr. Berger in hot pursuit. He never catches up with her and the last he sees of her is entering an old decrepit warehouse in a run down part of the town. On closer investigation, the warehouse has a signboard that says “Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository“. He rings the bell, but gets no answer.
Dejected, he returns home but with more clarity on why the woman with the red bag looked so familiar. He pulls out his copy of Anna Karenina from one of his bookshelves and picks out the passage in the book that describes the exact scene he witnessed/was part of. Mr Berger is a true book lover and does not get spooked by this; instead, it makes him more determined to find out about the woman and Caxton.
He decides to stake out the warehouse, but sees no sign of activity. Days pass, before there’s a breakthrough. One day, Mr. Berger sees an old gentleman unlocking the door to Caxton’s and manages to accost him before he enters the door. The old gentleman tries to shut the door on Mr. Berger’s face, but the latter succeeds in forcing his way in. Resigned, the old man asks him in and offers him some tea.
The old Gentleman had introduced himself as Mr. Gedeon, and he had been the librarian at the Caxton for more than 40 years. His job, he informed Mr. Berger, was ‘to maintain and as required, increase the collection; to perform restorative work on the volumes where necessary; and of course, to look after the characters’.
The last two words “the characters” makes Mr. Berger choke on his tea and he realises the gravity of Mr. Gedeon’s words: that characters from the books are very much real and what’s more they are all at Caxton.
At this point, I’m going to stop my narration of this story’s plot. To know more about how and why the characters have become real, what they are doing in Caxton, Mr. Gedeon’s role in all this, Caxton itself, and Mr. Berger’s role and reaction to all this, you’ll have to read the story yourself. I hope whatever you have read so far has intrigued you enough to pick up the book. 🙂
The Museum of … is a wonderful read and like most books on books, is sure to delight bibliophiles in their desire to be surrounded by and immersed in the world of books. What appealed to me most about this book is that it is so believable. The author hasn’t just let the thought that most book lovers have — “what if so-and-so-character were real” — remain a thought. He has woven a delightful little fantasy around it and one that I can relate to very much and one that I would love to even be part of. Let me also confess here that I’m a wee bit jealous of Mr. Berger.
The author and publisher keep referring to “The Museum of …” as a short story; in my opinion it is more like a novella. It is an easy and relaxing read and I finished it in one sitting. I have also liked it enough to read it more than once, especially for the following lines.
No book is really a fixed object. every reader reads a book differently, and each book works in a different way on each reader.
Note: This ebook was read on the Kindle App that I downloaded on the Dell Venue Tablet sent to me as part of the Dell blogger review programme.