Welcome to Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World. This rather dishevelled museum is where Cate and her son, Leo, end up when they can no longer afford to stay in their flat in London and need a place to go. It’s Cate’s late husband’s family’s museum and yet she and Leo have never been and have no idea what to expect.
Cate Morris and her son, Leo, are homeless, adrift. They’ve packed up the boxes from their London home, said goodbye to friends and colleagues, and now they are on their way to ‘Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World – to stay just for the summer. Cate doesn’t want to be there, in Richard’s family home without Richard to guide her any more. And she knows for sure that Araminta, the retainer of the collection of dusty objects and stuffed animals, has taken against them. But they have nowhere else to go. They have to make the best of it.
Anstey Harris is based by the seaside in south-east England where she lives with her violinmaker husband and two dogs. She teaches creative writing in the community, local schools, and occasionally as an associate lecturer for Christchurch University in Canterbury. If you’d like to have a go at some writing exercises with Anstey, head over to Instagram and look at her IGTV channel, where she also interviews authors about their journeys and tips for writing.
The setting is what initially drew me most of all to Where We Belong. Hatters turned out to exceed my expectations of the unusual and the unexpected, housing as it does a range of stuffed animal exhibits and other curious and interesting items from around the world. I was entranced by it and could absolutely imagine it in my mind’s eye as a place that would grow on a person, as it does Cate.
Anstey writes about the things that make people tick, the things that bind us and the things that can rip us apart. In 2015, she won the H G Wells Short Story Prize for her story, Ruby and The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton (a Richard and Judy pick for July 2019) won the RNA Sapere Books Romantic Novel of the Year title in 2020.
This is a beautifully written story about family secrets and how a family’s history echoes down over the generations. The more I read, the more I was drawn into Cate and Araminta’s efforts to keep the museum going and into Cate and Leo’s new life in Crouch-on-Sea, willing them to make something of it. There’s a brilliant scene where Leo really comes into his own and I felt such a sense of pride in him. When the end came I was moved to tears because I was so invested in the characters. I found Where We Belong to be a gorgeous read, sad and moving, yet ultimately positive and uplifting, a story of moving on and finding a new normal. I highly recommend you make a visit to Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World. I loved every minute I spent there.
However, the setting is only a part of what makes this book so appealing. I found Cate quite prickly to begin with but as the story of what happened in her marriage unfolded I started to understand her better. Then there’s Araminta, the custodian of the collection at Hatters, again a frosty character to whom I warmed. Leo is a fantastic character whom I felt the author did a wonderful job with. As a whole, the characters are delightfully portrayed and gel perfectly, even down to the ones with only tiny bit parts.
Things that interest Anstey include her children and grandchildren, green issues and conservation, adoption and adoption reunion (she is an adopted child, born in an unmarried mothers’ home in Liverpool in 1965), dogs, and food. Always food. She would love to be on Masterchef but would never recover from the humiliation if she got sent home in the first round.
Today I’m sharing my thoughts about Where We Belong by Anstey Harris. I’d like to thank SJ at Books and the City/Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of this lovely book as part of a giveaway win.
But Richard hasn’t told Cate the truth about his family’s history. And something about the house starts to work its way under her skin.
Can she really walk away, once she knows the truth?
One family learning to love again.