It doesn’t matter if it’s Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence, the bombing of a New York gallery by Donna Tartt, or the story of a curator who turned to crime. Museums are full of interesting stories. Museums are great places to set stories of any kind. A museum is a place where you can learn about the past. It has archives, secrets, and windows to worlds and people that have long gone away. Thrilling mysteries can be solved, and magic can be made from pieces of the past. All of the pieces of pottery and fabrics in the world were made by people who lived long ago.
In my new book, The Handover, two security guards at the fictional Manchester Museum of Social History are real guardians of the past. They are literally in charge of the past. But they learn that the past isn’t set in stone, and that challenging it can lead to better things in the future, too. Besides, Daisy and Nate aren’t the first characters to have their stories played out in a museum. Here are some of my favorite stories that have been played out there.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
It might seem like a logical choice, but Atkinson’s 1995 debut is a masterclass in how a museum can be a place where past lives meet the present. In this case, the York Castle Museum is a nexus of past and present lives. It tells the story of Ruby Lennox and five generations of her female ancestors, putting them in glass cases so that people can look at them and compare them to one another.
The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
Hogan’s novel doesn’t have dinosaur bones or artifacts from an empire. Instead, it’s a collection of more ordinary things that are put together in a hurry. It’s no less full of stories and history because of that, though. He finds lost things in parks and on the streets and imagines the stories behind them as he tries to find their rightful owners. I think it’s beautiful and sad.
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
In the same way that Hogan collects, Pamuk’s businessman, Kemal, makes his own private museum of things that only have to do with his love, Fusun. He does this just like Hogan did. As the novel goes on for almost a decade, the Turkish businessman finds comfort and motivation to keep looking for his star-crossed lover through his collection of different trinkets that bring back memories of their snatched time together.
The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc
This Ben Stiller movie might be better known than the source material, a picture book by Croatian author and illustrator Trenc. A nightwatchman named Hector learns that his job isn’t to protect the Museum of Natural History in New York from burglars or vandals, but to keep the dinosaur skeletons, which come to life each night, out of the museum. Afterward, a new version of the book was released that changed the name of Hector’s character, Larry, to match Stiller’s character.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Since her first book, The Secret History, came out in 1992, Tartt has only written three more books. For me, though, it was worth the wait. A lot of people didn’t like The Goldfinch. I thought this coming-of-age story, which started with the Metropolitan Museum of Art being destroyed by a bomb, was amazing. The Goldfinch, a painting by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius, is Theo Decker’s “McGuffin.” Theo’s life is entwined with the painting to the point where it’s like a Hitchcockian McGuffin.
The Horror in the Museum by HP Lovecraft
This short story was also the title of a collection of work written by Lovecraft that was published under the pseudonym Hazel Heald in 1933. Lovecraft wrote this short story under the pseudonym Hazel Heald. If you can stand the pompous old racist’s work, this is a funnier romp than most of it. It takes place in a waxworks museum. Doubting Thomas is persuaded to spend the night there by the owner who isn’t sure what to do. As in the best pulp stories, the waxworks boss ends up in his own museum as a grotesque display of his own work.
The Murder Room by PD James
Where better to kill someone than in a wing of a museum dedicated to tools of the trade? For her detective, Adam Dalgliesh, Queen Victoria put him in a setting that was eclectic and had a Murder Room with weapons used in historical killings. They’re all dead, of course, in the same way as one of their own family members.
Chasing Aphrodite by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino
One of the best things about going to a museum is seeing ancient artifacts from all around the world. It can be hard to figure out how these things came to be, because they were often the result of war, empire or even crime. As an antiquities curator at the J Paul Getty Museum, Marion True was able to buy a huge hoard of stolen goods through a global trafficking network. Felch and Frammolino write about this fascinating story in their book, “Antiquities: A True Story.”
Still Lives by Maria Hummel
During this, the poet’s first piece of prose in 2018, there are more murderous museum scenes. She is an avant-garde artist called Kim Lord, and she puts on a show at LA’s Rocque Museum where she shows paintings of herself as the victims of well-known murders. … and even more so when Lord doesn’t show up at her own launch party. This starts a search for a person who hasn’t been seen for a long time. It shows the dark heart of the art world in the spotlight.
The Monuments Men by Robert M Edsel
It was a 2009 non-fiction book that was a little bit like the movie that George Clooney made in 2014. They were taken from the countries they invaded and fought in during World War II by Nazis. Edsel writes about how people tried to get them back. To help with this, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program was put in place. This led Edsel to set up a foundation that emphasized the need to protect art in countries that have been wracked by conflict.