The Museum's Secret: The Remarkable Adventures of Tom Scatterhorn by Henry Chancellor
|The Museum's Secret: The Remarkable Adventures of Tom Scatterhorn by Henry Chancellor|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A museum of stuffed animals come to life – the reason how and why might just involve a startling adventure for our young hero. I don't think we could be startled by the book, however, as it is more of a gentle, and overlong, adventure, but one still more than worth considering.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 464||Date: May 2009|
|Publisher: Oxford University Press|
With his parents absent, our hero Tom Scatterhorn is packed off to his relatives, and their dusty, musty, fusty, stuffed animal galleries – the museum of the title. It's not looking to be the best Christmas ever for Tom. Nearby, members of the town's other major family lineage surface from darkest Peru, and claim to want to bury the hatchet on a four hundred year neighbourhood grudge. They have, of course, hidden motives. But the museum can offer a lot more of its own that is equally well hidden…
Thus is the mystery set up, and it's almost a mystery how the book that follows challenges itself to consider it and all the many other disparate elements. We can predict a certain familiarity with a certain recent movie, Night at the Museum, but I am sure here the why and wherefore is a lot different. But could we expect the Narnia-ism of some of the furniture? Who was seriously looking forward to such a time-travelling twister of a plot as here? And don't tell me you could foretell we would have such a pleasantly written, interesting and gripping, pivotal tiger hunt.
Before you cry foul and say I have given too much away, I don't think I have, and in writing for an audience of adults here I'm bearing in mind the potential purchasers of books for the 11-15 year olds. I cannot see this volume breaking out and becoming successful as an adult read.
And I am not too sure it is a hugely successful book full stop, to tell the truth. While it is welcome that Tom is not too bright and overly heroic, he does do too much blundering, gentle exploring, and waiting for the scientific explanation for things to come to him. I cannot be alone in thus being several paragraphs too far ahead of him.
To its credit, there is enough of the book that one cannot hope to second guess, but I think there is too much in between crux points at times – the book is not as dense as it at first appears, 350 pages of not the largest print imaginable, and can flow briskly, but it can easily slip into the mode of taking too long to get nowhere very fast.
I can appreciate the slightly old-fashioned pacing can be part of the appeal to some, and I should emphasise there is a lot that is put together nicely, either side of the less necessary. The tiger hunt and all that it entails for so much of the plot would never succeed without the characters being worth caring for, and its mix of fantasy and general adventure writing provides for a memorable scene – one among several cinematic pictures I could well keep in mind regarding this volume.
It is also, I suppose, another plus point that, where the time travel is concerned, the unworkable paradox only becomes clear two-thirds of the way in. Would the target audience really notice that in the primary time-line he hasn't yet gone back in order to be recognisable?
The blurb on my proof copy mentions the quirky – one of my most over-used words on this site. However for once I disagree. The characters, locations (a river-top ice fair, for one) and other elements are unusual, yes, but are told with no quirkiness; instead a completely sincere narrative voice, which uncharitably could be called too dry, is to the fore.
The book then provides much that is novel for the young reader, and I would hope they could get into the world of global adventure, time travel and pure fantasy quite successfully. It remains a satisfyingly inventive read, but for the style, and the way it could have all hung together with a bit more brevity, flash and vigour, I am disappointed with how little I am looking forward to the inevitable sequels.
As it stands this book is quite true to its title in more ways than one – not quite remarkable enough, and not as snappy as it ought to be. But for the right audience, those with the patience for an enveloping in a more leisurely, old-fashioned romp, it could become a most cherished volume. Therefore it certainly gets a Bookbag recommendation, and to some I am sure four stars seems unkindly low.
I would like to thank Oxford Children's Books for sending the Bookbag a review copy.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Museum's Secret: The Remarkable Adventures of Tom Scatterhorn by Henry Chancellor at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google play and Waterstones. We do earn commission from Amazon though. Just so's you know.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.