The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman, © 2014, Scribner
Here is a book right up my alley. We have turn of the century freak shows on Coney Island, mermaids, love at first sight, and true historical tragedies interwoven into a quick fictionalized tale.
Meet Coralie, our resident mermaid, or at least that is how her father would like to present her to the world. Professor Sardie, her father, is far from the warm and fuzzy type. He runs 'The Museum of Extraordinary Things', where he exhibits the likes of a 100-year-old turtle, a butterfly girl (a girl with no arms), a wolfman, fire breathers and when she turns 10, Coralie, his star attraction - the human mermaid.
Coralie is a shy girl, but far from a mermaid. Her webbed fingers are an oddity that Professor Sardie is intent on exploiting, along with his other freaks. But he fails to see the human side of his employers and that is where the story lies. We are more than a sum of our parts.
While I enjoyed Hoffman's book and the images she created, I do have issue with the story. There is so much going on in the book, that characters fail to breathe to life in the pages. Coralie meets Eddie in the woods one day after one of her training swims in the Hudson River. They barely spy each other through the trees, but both fall instantly in love and cannot get each other out of their heads. No rhyme or reason. They never even spoke. Yet that spontaneous love carries them through the turmoil ahead, despite neither of them ever having had much trust or faith in a world that hasn't done them any favours in the past.
Am I jaded in that? Perhaps, but I think that Hoffman could have given more details to help the reader fall in love too.
Hoffman goes on to describe the true events of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the devastation that it wreaked. I love when authors weave true events into a tale, as I feel like I am expanding my knowledge. But again, events are given short shrift and I was left wanting more. The tale felt rushed towards its conclusion, which I won't spoil for you.
Did I enjoy the book? Yes and it is worth the read. But it has been compared to The Night Circus and in my opinion that is a far superior novel.
On to my next book!