Posted by: montclairlibrary | December 19, 2018

Museum Books

Novels set in museums, a list by the Friends of Montclair Library

Rainy days are perfect for visiting museums – either IRL through the library’s Discover & Go program, or virtually through the magic of books.

Here are a dozen novels — from dreamy to dramatic — about museums and their denizens to get you started:

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson (FIC YOUNGSON) – This epistolary novel is told through the at-first-accidental correspondence between Danish professor and recent widower Anders and isolated, disenchanted English farmwife Tina. Brought together by a shared fascination with the Tollund Man, which is on display at Anders’s museum, they begin writing letters to one another and discover they have more in common than they could have imagined. Annie Barrows (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) blurbed the book – if you liked the tone and pacing of her book, you’ll probably like this one, too.

Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (FIC ROSE) (not at Montclair) – Based on a real piece of performance art where visitors to the Museum of Modern Art sat across a table from artist Marina Abramović, this book chronicles the exhibit’s effect on a fictional man going through creative and romantic struggles.

Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives (FIC IVES) – Stella, a cartographic specialist at Manhattan’s renowned (and fictional) Central Museum of Art, finds a photocopy of a meticulously detailed and illustrated old map of a 19th-century utopian settlement folded up in her dead colleague’s pencil drawer, leading her down a rabbit hole that’s part midlife crisis, part send-up of the museum world and part “art historical mystery that will interest fans of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch” (Kirkus Reviews), although the mystery part didn’t quite deliver on its promising premise, IMHO.

Alena by Rachel Pastan (FIC PASTAN) (not at Montclair) – “A contemporary retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s gripping and iconic novel Rebecca, Alena tells the story of a bright young curator who finds herself haunted by the legacy of her predecessor at a small, cutting-edge art museum on Cape Cod.” (Publisher)

The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald (MYS FITZGERALD) (not at Montclair) – “Combines a deft comedy of manners with a classic mystery” (GoodReads) set at the King Tut exhibition at the British Museum in 1972, and “also pokes fun at museum politics, academic scholars and Cold War spying.” (Wikipedia)

The Bowl is Already Broken by Mary Kay Zuravleff (FIC ZURAVLEFF) (not at Montclair) – The new acting director of the National Museum of Asian Art faces must deal with her pregnancy, the disappearance of her mentor, an embezzling colleague and the dropping of a bowl once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

Museums, with their dark corridors, aura of history and dusty basements full of secrets, seem to lend themselves to stories of murder and intrigue, so you’ll find lots of murder mysteries set at museums, including Murder at the National Gallery by Margaret Truman (MYS TRUMAN) (not at Montclair) – During the mounting of a prestigious exhibition at the National Gallery featuring a newly discovered painting by Caravaggio, art gallery owner Annabel Smith and her law-professor husband Mac are drawn into a high-stakes international art world in which obsession can lead to murder.

The Objects of Her Affection: A Novel by Sonya Cobb (FIC COBB) (not at Montclair) – “Sophie Porter is the last person in the world you’d expect to be stealing Renaissance masterpieces — and that’s exactly why she’s so good at it. Slipping objects out of her husband’s office at the Philadelphia Museum of Art satisfies something deep inside, during a time when satisfactions are few and far between. Selling the treasures also happens to keep their house out of foreclosure…But sometimes, as we struggle to hold on to our most cherished possessions, we lost sight of what’s truly important in life.”

Asunder by Chloe Aridjis (FIC ARIDJIS) (not at Montclair) – “Marie’s job as a guard at the National Gallery in London offers her the life she always wanted, one of invisibility and quiet contemplation. But there’s also the legacy of her great-grandfather Ted, the museum guard who slipped and fell moments before reaching the suffragette Mary Richardson as she took a blade to one of the gallery’s masterpieces…..On a winter trip to Paris, the arrival of an uninvited guest and an unexpected encounter tear open her carefully contained world.”

The Looters by Harold Robbins and Junius Podrug (FIC ROBBINS) (not at Montclair) – Museum curator Madison Dupre pays $55 million dollars on behalf of her employer to buy the golden death mask of Semiramis, an ancient Babylonian queen. But accusations soon arise that the mask was stolen during the looting of the Iraqi museum when American troops entered Baghdad – and international intrigue and murder ensue.

Still Lives: A Novel by Maria Hummel (FIC HUMMEL) (not at Montclair) – An avant-garde artist and feminist icon stages an exhibition comprised of self-portraits depicting herself as famous, murdered women — the Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, Nicole Brown Simpson — which supporters hope will save the historic Rocque Museum from financial trouble. But fear mounts when the artist never shows up to her opening night gala.

The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight by Gina Ochsner (FIC OCHSNER) (not at Montclair) – I haven’t read this one, but from the description it’s either brilliant or terrible: “Tanya…dreams of finding love and escaping her job at the All-Russia All-Cosmopolitan Museum, a place which holds a fantastic and terrible collection of art knockoffs created using the tools at hand, from foam to chewing gum, Popsicle sticks to tomato juice. When the museum’s director hears of a mysterious American group seeking to fund art in Russia, it looks like she might get her chance at a better life, if she can only convince them of the collection’s worth.”

Want even more museum books? Check out our previous post about crime novels set in the art world and this list of nonfiction books about behind-the-scenes lives of museums and patrons.

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