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The Museum Guard (Canadian Trilogy #2)

3.58  ·  Rating Details ·  681 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews

Orphaned by a zeppelin crash at age nine, DeFoe Russet was raised in a Halifax, Nova Scotia, hotel by his magnetic uncle Edward. Now thirty, DeFoe works with Edward as a guard in Halifax's three-room Glace Museum. He and his uncle disturb the silence of the museum with heated conversations that prove them to be "opposites at life." Away from the museum, DeFoe courts the af

Hardcover, 310 pages
Published August 25th 1998 by Knopf Canada (first published 1998)
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May 4th 2008: Upgraded to 5 stars.
An extraordinary novel by the author of "The Bird Artist".

There are certain things you can rely on in a book by Howard Norman: distinctly quirky protagonists, odd names, a relatively remote Canadian location, and a dynamite opening sentence -

"The painting I stole for Imogen Linny, Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam , arrived to the Glace Museum, here in Halifax, on September 5, 1938."

That's the voice of DeFoe Russet, the main protagonist of "The Museum Guard". He
Ronald Wise
Jul 22, 2011 Ronald Wise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This captivating novel is the second of Howard A. Norman's "Canadian Trilogy", following The Bird Artist, and while the first is not a prerequisite to this one, a continuation of tone and narrative style meant that I found this one much easier to enjoy from the outset. This book is also told by a young man coming of age in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, though this time in Halifax, which, in the first novel, was the "big city" for the remote folk of extreme Newfoundland.

It is 1938 and young D
ADDENDUM: So why only three stars after all the positive points mentioned below? For two reasons - it is not as good at The Bird Artist which got 4 stars and more importantly b/c it lacks humor!

I have to think about this a bit. What is bothering me is where the characters end up at the end of the novel. What is bothering and yet at the same time intriguing me is my uncertainty. What is the author trying to say and do I agree and are the characters believable? There is a lot to th
May 07, 2008 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who want some hard driven Canadian drama.
Okay, so I've seen other people write very highly of Howard Norman's work. I've had The Bird Artist sitting on my shelf for awhile now, and while I probably should have read that book first (since I did buy it first), but I liked the cover to The Museum Guard better.

The Museum Guard takes place in Halifax, Canada.

What? Where? Who writes books about Canada? I mean who cares?

The Museum Guard takes place just before World War II when Canada was rife with tension over the impending war they felt t

This was near the top of my to-read list for a long time, based on some rave reviews I had remembered from long ago. But even though the book held my attention and created some of the most distinctive characters I've encountered in fiction, its strangeness and the flat narration of its protagonist finally did me in.

Defoe Russett is one of two guards in a small art museum in Halifax. He has been raised by his neer do well uncle, the other guard, in a local hotel, after Defoe's parents were killed
Jan 02, 2008 Cynthia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After reading all the reviews and the novel, I've come to the conclusion that you either really love the novel or you hate the novel. There seems to be little room in between. As for me, I belong to the group that did not enjoy this novel and its hard to pinpoint why.

I thought the author did a great job with the tone of the novel, a sort of sparse, dead, dreary tone. But during some moments of the novel, I wanted some kind of emotion and felt little from the characters. Even when Edward died or
Feb 09, 2017 ☕Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
Ratings (1 to 5)
Writing: 4
Plot: 5
Characters: 5
Emotional impact: 4
Overall rating: 4.5
Feb 20, 2010 Qualgar rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I want to start by saying I really loved the beginning of the story, the interaction between DeFoe and Edward alone in the museum. The dialogue was quirky, but in a good way. I loved the way the two of them were as different as East and West. The book began as a character study of the highest level. But then, about a third of the way into it, there seemed to be this wrenching feeling, where the supporting players acted somewhat randomly to facilitate 'action', as if the dialogue was not enough. ...more
Jan 09, 2009 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I kept thinking I might have already read this, but couldn't remember the details. Unfortunately, that is still the case. An interesting book, but not one I could connect to on any emotional level. It was like reading about some historical figure from another country. The lack of connection to the characters left me unmoved by a story that should have been tragic. Set in Nova Scotia, just before the outbreak of the second World War, the Museum Guard is interesting, but unaffecting. The character ...more
Mitchell Waldman
Howard Norman's The Museum Guard brings us a compelling, page-turning, quirky story told by a museum guard named DeFoe Russett, whose parents were tragically killed in a zeppelin crash, and who was, as a result, raised by his uncle Edward in the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia. DeFoe's "family" is the staff of the hotel where he has lived for so many years. DeFoe's life is a narrow one. He has never left Halifax, has followed his uncle in his choice of careers, and in no way considers ...more
Jun 12, 2009 Shelley rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2011
Strange characters and a strange plot - but it really worked out to be a great piece of fiction. I was excited to read a book set in Halifax prior to the second world war, but I never ended up with a sense of place. It could have been happening in a museum anywhere.
Apr 11, 2010 Lawrence rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have thought about this book and why I found it to be so totally gripping.

One of the reasons is that, for me, the book has the low key qualities of an old black and white movie --- a film of the 40's that lasts 90 minutes with a focus on one character's interior life, voice overs, very few sets, major supporting roles, and a number of character actors. That is, it leaves a lot to the imagination.

The other reason is simply the perfect fit between the story and the character of the museum guard,
Dani Peloquin
The Museum Guard tells the story of an uncle and nephew who work as security guards at a small museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The nephew, DeFoe, lost his parents in a zeppelin accident when he was eight and has since been raised by his uncle. DeFoe grew up living in a hotel with his uncle and when he finally moved out of his uncle's room, it was only to relocate down the hall in the same hotel. DeFoe's uncle, Russett, is a crotchety man in his forties who lives a fast life filled with women, al ...more
Mar 26, 2008 Katelyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: (see the above sentence)
There were several well-crafted aspects of this book and several less desirable or missing components.

The good:
1. The book really tapped into and used loneliness. The author is obviously well versed in the character of the earnest but solitary young man, as well as what this man could become in the future (the jaded, isolated fellow). Finding one's self true self (and not) was a running theme.
2. Simple writing style--anyone who was interested would find this book palatable. This is especially ni
Crystal Greek
Strange. I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's certainly a tangled story with obsession, madness, and compulsions of people at its heart. I was struck by the narrator's blind loyalty to the object of his affection, though she came across to me on the pages as horrid, self-indulgent, and cold. It was refreshing to read something where the thinking and behaviours of the main character were more primal and simplistic in nature, weak as humans often are. The story, though, as it reaches its climax, ...more
Mark Willen
Jan 04, 2015 Mark Willen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
DeFoe Russet, the protagonist in this complex novel, is a minimally educated man of simple ambitions, limited horizons and little self-knowledge. An orphan whose parents died in a dirigible crash when he was eight, DeFoe is raised in a Halifax hotel in the 1930s by his alcoholic and amorous Uncle Edward. DeFoe is content with the simple life of a museum guard and an oddly behaving girlfriend, even as word of Hitler’s march through Europe begins to penetrate Nova Scotia. Content, that is, until I ...more
Jan 24, 2011 Katherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
“ ‘Don’t get me wrong, DeFoe. I like Edward, God help me. Very fond of him, in ways I’ve had to invent specially’” (13).
“ ‘He has a thick accent, mind you; even if a word’s got only one syllable’” (42).
“ ‘Let’s talk about her face. Some might consider it a bit—what’s the correct word?—“dour.” But do you know what? If dour is her natural look, it means—it means when her face brightens, you notice’” (118-119). **As someone whose face has often been described thus, or as “serious,” I doubly appreci
Aug 31, 2007 Karschtl rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The main character, DeFoe, has lived with his uncle in a hotel since his parents died in a balloon crash several years ago. Now he even starts the same job as his uncle - he becomes a museum guard in the small local museum.

Currently they have an exhibition with paintings from the Netherlands, and DeFoes girlfriend - a jewish cemetry caretake - is obsessed with a painting called "Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam".

I gave up about halfway through the book. It just didn't keep me interested. The sto
Erin Thornhill
I wish I hadn't read three of his books so closely together or I may have liked this more. I do like his writing style and what he writes about but I think I hate his characters! Out of the three books I read, each male narrator was orphaned by suicide or freak accident. A horse and cart overturning, a zeppelin accident and flinging themselves of bridges! You never really feel much towards the narrator other than frustration as to why he would take up with an even more annoying or strange female ...more
Sep 07, 2010 Donna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Howard Norman portrays the life of a young man in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the late 1930's, just at the beginning of WW II. Under the care of his uncle since the death of his parents, he begins working as a museum guard with his uncle. He spends his time trying to gain the love of a young woman who becomes obsessed with a Dutch painting in the museum. As she becomes more convinced that she IS the woman in the painting, A Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam, he struggles to bring her back to her sense ...more
Feb 28, 2015 Shawn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Since I read it in two sittings, I obviously found it something of a page turner, but I can't quite put my finger on why. Quirky characters, certainly, and also the looming threat from the Nazis, (at least three of the female characters are Jewish, and it's clear that DeFoe is likely to be drafted to fight in the war). And both Halifax and Amsterdam are, to me, interesting places. But I didn't find any of the characters especially believable, nor their situations especially moving. In addition, ...more
Suzie Langdon
Nov 09, 2013 Suzie Langdon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviews
Re "The Museum Guard", I just discovered Howard Norman when my bookpal rec. his memoir-"I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place"(2013).My attention was caught and I started,as usual out of sequence, his trilogy of life in small communities in isolated parts of Canada( northern Manitoba, Halifax,Nova Scotia,Witless Bay,Newfoundland) around the turn of the century.(see his extensive history of translation in the Cree language).All these 3 books are wonderful and captivating.For once I've veered from ...more
May 30, 2016 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Howard Norman is one of those exquisite authors who can paint a picture so vividly with his words that you actually feel that you are gazing at it. If someone asked me if I had seen the painting the Sunday Flower Market, I would probably answer "yes" so clearly do I envision the scene and the feeling of the picture Howard Norman describes
So too, with his characters. I feel I know them. I might not necessarily like them but, nevertheless, they intrigue me.
Once again, as in the Bird Artist, an e
Apr 10, 2013 Cathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in Halifax in the 1930s, this book has a quirky feel to it. You can almost see a cold grey fog over the people and their lives. You know you are in a different, simpler time, although these people aren't simple or trite. The characters change places in the course of the story, moving to the front and then receding as the focus shifts. The setting is so lifelike that I actually stopped and did some research to see if there was any real historic truth to what was described. It may be a work of ...more
Apr 08, 2009 Liviu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mainstream, read_2010
Quite good but not on par with Bird Artist or Haunting of L; the scope is more limited and the narrator dumber than usual; the details of a long gone society, the little pleasures in the transient era of radio, cinema, and the usual strange characters, intricate relationships and bursts of unexpected violence as well as the link with the darkening world-picture of 1938 make this novel very good, but it misses the intensity of the Bird Artist one or the subtlety and "interestingness" of Haunting ...more
Jul 18, 2008 Sara rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2008
I really enjoyed the beginning, but I eventually lost my ability to believe in these characters. I think at certain points, he uses inexplicable behavior to show how we can't always understand other people, even when we love them. And in some instances, this works. But in other instances, it doesn't. For example, one character joins another on a trip, and to me there is no explanation other than the author needed someone to provide the p.o.v. from the remote location. I wanted to know how the bo ...more
Ironical Dins
I'm not really a fan of this book. I thought it was going to be an historical fiction set in 1930s Halifax, focusing on art and the Jewish community, and it was something else entirely. If you are a fan of Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves, you might want to give this novel a try. It's more of a psychological study of obsession. I wouldn't call it a historical fiction, because it doesn't focus on the historical details, except for the last third of the book, where it focuses on the news Canad ...more
I really liked this book and the characters right up until the point where DeFoe and Imogen break up. After that I had a very hard time understanding her and the other characters' motivations and thoughts. I really couldn't care less about them, the plot, or the book after that. I also was greatly disappointed in the shift in narrative for the last part of the book. I've read the 1st book in the Canadian series (The Bird Artist) and really liked it. Unfortunately, this one was a disappointment. ...more
Danielle Vilda
Feb 02, 2014 Danielle Vilda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was 12 when my mom bought me this book from a second-hand bookstore and to be honest, I had a hard time finishing it. Museum Guard was too deep for someone who hasn't reached her 'teens yet, but it was intriguing enough for me to hold on to it a little longer. I didn't regret that I did so. I wouldn't say that I understood it completely, but reading it to the last leaf answered my questions from page one AND gave me new questions.

Maybe I'll read it again some time this year and update this rev
Apr 14, 2009 Katherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had read The Bird Artist some years ago and enjoyed it. Norman is another of those slightly, dark quirky authors who seem to appear in the Canadian Maritimes. Must be the sea air or something. A very different story about the events surrounding a young guard at a small art museum in Halifax. His life is very, routine and set but events of large consequence but personally and international are swirling around him.
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Howard A. Norman (born 1949), is an American award-winning writer and educator. Most of his short stories and novels are set in Canada's Maritime Provinces. He has written several translations of Algonquin, Cree, Eskimo, and Inuit folklore. His books have been translated into 12 languages.
More about Howard Norman...

Other Books in the Series

Canadian Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Bird Artist
  • The Haunting of L

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“I can only repeat what I say to myself day and night: I expect nothing, yet life keeps taking unexpected turns.” 2 likes
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