The Museum of Words (Georgia Blain, Scribe)
The Museum of Words, written as Georgia Blain knew she was dying of brain cancer, will be posthumously published. Her instinct, to the end, was to find meaning by writing through her experience. She implicitly asks, about herself, her best friend Rosie Scott (in a ghastly coincidence, also dying of brain cancer), and late mother Anne Deveson (then disintegrating into Alzheimer’s): what happens when a writer loses their language? How intrinsically is it linked to who they are? Blain notes that, with this book, she joins Cory Taylor (Dying: A Memoir) and Jenny Diski (In Gratitude) in an emerging subgenre of the illness memoir. Despite this grim context, the overwhelming tone of The Museum of Words is anticipatory nostalgia. It is a passionate, piercingly observed farewell to what Blain loved most in life—writing, reading and family—interlaced with intimate sketches of three generations of mothers and daughters (including her teenage daughter Odessa, also a writer), doubly bound by their shared vocation. The Museum of Words doesn’t, of course, have the polished near-perfection of Blain’s award-winning and horribly prescient final novel, Between a Wolf and a Dog, or her brilliant memoir-in-essays, Births, Deaths, Marriages. But its fragile strength, depth of insight and sheer hard-won existence make it a book to be read, treasured and shared as the parting gift it is.
Jo Case is editor of Readings Monthly and a bookseller at Readings Doncaster