The Handover by David M. Barnett
A museum of social history may not be the most exciting setting for a novel, but in the hands of David Barnett it provides the background for a story of great insight and depth. The story of Daisy, a lonely woman who is in possession of a great secret, a past act that has shaped her life, is described from her point of view. She relates her life in detail, the routine, the urge to follow the rules, the expectations that she has of others that are often disappointed. Her story runs alongside the narration of another life from his own point of view, that of Nate, another security guard at the Manchester Museum of Social History.
This is a delicately balanced story of two individuals whose lives are only meant to overlap for five minutes a day, as Nate hands over the security guarding of the museum to Daisy in the late afternoon. He has his own issues with his past and present, and they are beginning to move into his day job. When a five minute handover becomes more than a brief interlude, they realise that they have a lot in common. This is a cleverly balanced and astute book of loneliness and more, a book that reflects many aspects of contemporary life. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this well written novel.
As the book opens Daisy is feeling uncomfortable about being consulted about an admittedly strange exhibit. It is immediately obvious that she finds conversation a bit difficult, even though she has an almost unspoken sense of humour. Daisy wants a full handover report from Nate; after all she goes to the trouble of providing Harold with a written report of her patrols. She is a rule keeper, a creature of habit, content to be alone in the museum late at night without people to bother her. She even braves the room with the human skull to get her book to read at break time, a book of greek myths with their unsettling messages. Her home life consists of an ill mother and a younger sister who has more interests than Daisy, possibly because she does not feel the weight of guilt that Daisy continually carries for an act which has seemingly earned her the local nickname “Crazy Daisy”. Daisy works the unsocial hours at the museum to leave her days free to look after her mother, and to curtail a usual social life.
Nate lives alone in the house he once shared with his mother and volatile father. The latter was a renowned boxer, Terry Garvey, whose later career had reduced him to taking the blows in the ring that he could still deal out at home. Nate is determined not to be like his father with his brutal streak, but dealing with his family commitments makes him anxious. Although he is affable and finds it easy to talk to people, he is insecure. It is when he begins to talk to Daisy for more than a few minutes that they discover some common ground and join forces to discover why items are disappearing from the museum.
This is a gentle book in many ways which looks in depth at realistic characters. Both Daisy and Nate are well drawn and it is easy to sympathise with them, as well as enjoy their dialogue with the clever puns. The other characters are also presented with real flair, especially the relentlessly encouraging Rosie. I recommend this book for its understated humour, its insights into contemporary lives and much more.