TITLE: The Museum of Ordinary People
AUTHOR: Mike Gayle
GENRE: Literary fiction
PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing
PUBLICATION DATE: May 30, 2023
TWs: grief and loss of loved one
NARRATOR: Witney White
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a place to safely keep all the items and knick-knacks of loved ones who have passed away, the ones we don’t want to get rid of? That’s where the Museum of Ordinary People comes in. In this touching and inspiring story, Mike Gayle explores themes of grief, forgiveness, and the power of moving forward, leaving a lasting impact on every reader. Through a cast of authentic and intricate characters, the Museum of Ordinary People showcases the raw and messy yet beautiful tapestry of the human experience. It’s a journey that will resonate with everyone and leave you feeling deeply connected to the story.
Let me start by saying I am not a fan of museums. But this book really changed my perspective. I was so engrossed in the story that I couldn’t put it down. Unfortunately, while reading this book, I caught the flu and had to take a break from the audiobook for two weeks. Usually, when I come back to a story after a long hiatus, I lose interest. But that wasn’t the case with this book – every time I picked it up again, I was hooked and felt all warm and fuzzy inside.
Still reeling from the sudden death of her mother, Jess is about to do the hardest thing she’s ever done: empty her childhood home so that it can be sold. As she sorts through a lifetime of memories, everything comes to a halt when she comes across something she just can’t part with: an old set of encyclopedias. To the world, the books are outdated and ready to be recycled. To Jess, they represent love and the future that her mother always wanted her to have.
In the process of finding the books a new home, Jess discovers an unusual archive of letters, photographs, and curious housed in a warehouse and known as the Museum of Ordinary People. Irresistibly drawn, she becomes the museum’s unofficial custodian, along with the warehouse’s mysterious owner. As they delve into the history of objects in their care, they not only unravel heart-stirring stories that span generations and continents, but also unearth long-buried secrets that lie closer to home.
Inspired by an abandoned box of mementos, The Museum of Ordinary People is a poignant novel about memory and loss, the things we leave behind, and the future we create for ourselves.
Gayle’s characters feel like persons you could run into in real life. They’re funny, charming, and beautifully broken as real humans are.
We meet our main character as she’s trying to move on from the grief of losing her mom. In an effort to save the encyclopedias her mom gave her as a reminder of her dreams for her daughter, Jess comes across a museum/warehouse that keeps the items that the loved ones of those who passed away do not want to get rid of. As she uses her background in art history to revive the museum back to life, she finds that she also reignites the spark within herself that was dimmed by the loss of her mom.
I loved being with Jess on her journey of finding herself. Watching her pour her heart and soul into the museum made for an inspiring read. Her emotions were palpable – I felt excited for her as she came alive with ideas to improve the museum and felt sad for her when she was met with obstacles along the way. She’s an easily likable and relatable character, making it natural to root for her along the way.
I really wished that she had more confidence in herself when it came to ending relationships with people when it was clear that she wasn’t happy, and it was painful for me to see her make herself smaller. However, her character was crafted in such a way that it’s easy to understand and sympathize with her decisions, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.
Every supporting character in the story is a delightful and warm addition. I adored learning more about ALEX, the gentle and compassionate man who unexpectedly inherited the museum from its previous owner, despite never having met him. The revelation behind this mystery was an emotional plot twist that I did not see coming but was pleasantly surprising. His backstory made me feel really sad, but it’s also what made him one of my favorite characters – resilient and wonderfully human.
Despite being a hopeful and fascinating read, the Museum of Ordinary People is not a lighthearted book. It provides an intimate look into the grieving process after the sudden loss of a parent, from cleaning out their house to making peace with not seeing them on Christmas anymore. Therefore, some content may be triggering for those who have recently lost a loved one and are going through a similar experience. Nonetheless, I hope Jess’s story inspires you to find hope and inspiration in your own life.
There may be potential trigger warnings for readers regarding narcissistic relationships. The emotional abuse tendencies Jess’ boyfriend, Guy, exhibited were heart-wrenching to witness. While it would have been empowering to see Jess leave him, the story did not take that direction. However, her character development towards the end was enough to redeem her in my eyes.
The ending was my favorite part. The emotional twists were heartbreaking and kept me glued to my headphones. Fortunately, there were no unresolved plot points. I appreciated this because several subplots were tied to Jess’ story, but the author addressed every single one without leaving the reader hanging.
The characters in this book earn their happy ending through their pain, tears, and loss. This is one of the biggest reasons why I love this book. Although I thought some plot points would work in Jess’ favor, they didn’t. And I appreciated that only some things worked out perfectly throughout the story because it mirrors real life more closely.
Mike Gayle’s writing is superb, evoking a sense of comfort and familiarity, making it feel like an old friend is telling you a story. The narrative utilizes dual timelines, one set in the immediate aftermath of Jess losing her mom, while the other, set one year later, explores her journey towards moving on. As a fan of dual-timeline stories, this one did not disappoint.
There is a lot of British slang, but luckily, I didn’t have a hard time guessing what the words might have meant.
One of the most delightful surprises in this story was how the author beautifully showcased the diverse ways the museum touched people’s lives, both positively and sometimes with challenges. At first, I couldn’t imagine anything negative about such a heartwarming concept of preserving objects from our loved ones. However, Gayle presents multiple characters’ perspectives, showing how it can be a source of comfort for some while causing hesitation and pain for others.
I listened to this audiobook slower than I usually would because I found the English accent of the reader a bit challenging to understand. I briefly thought about switching to the ebook version but decided to stick with the narration, and I’m happy I did. I loved how Witney White brought Jess to life. The only minor problem I had was that the narrator used similar voices for Jess and some of the male characters, making it difficult to distinguish who was speaking at times.
The Museum of Ordinary People is a sad yet hopeful tale about moving forward through grief and having the courage to start anew. It’s a story of forgiveness and the strength to face life’s challenges head-on. The concept of the museum in the book is so fascinating that I wish it existed in real life.
Despite dealing with heavy issues like grief and loss, it’s ultimately a feel-good story that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy inside. It’s the kind of story that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great read. It’s definitely one of my favorite books of 2023.
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