The Museum of Extraordinary Things - Alice Hoffman: Book Review
I picked this book up on a whim when I was browsing in Waterstones. I judged a book by it's cover, it intrigued me and when I read the synopsis I knew I had to have it.
'A tale of star-crossed lovers set against a creepy, gothic backdrop of freak shows, murder and mystery.' Independent
'Entrancing...Hoffman has amply succeeded in conjuring the teeming press of life in early twentieth-century New York, laying before us, in all its splendour and horror, the museum of extraordinary things that is humanity itself.' Financial Times
I love historical fiction (preferably the Victorian era) and I'm fascinated by freak shows so this book was right up my street.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman is set in New York in 1911. The novel is split into alternating chapters narrating the stories of our two protagonists; Eddie Cohen a young photographer and Coralie the daughter of Professor Sardie, the owner of the Museum of Extraordinary Things. Coralie has webbed fingers and her father trains her from a young age to feel at home in water so she can be a mermaid in his freak show. Coralie who can hold her breath for long periods, wears a silk tail and spends hours in a tank gawked at by the public. Her father is a ruthless character, who treats his staff and his daughter deplorably. As Coralie matures, she is exploited far worse and performs after-hours shows for repulsive, wealthy men hand-picked by her father.
Eddie is a handsome Jewish man that has left his faith behind and photographs city life. He has a skill for finding things, it's been a talent since he was a boy. When a factory burns down in New York and a young woman goes missing, Eddie is hired to find her. His search takes him to Professor Sardie's dreadful lab.
Coralie and Eddie's paths cross when he is led to the museum of extraordinary things. They realise that they have briefly met before and are infatuated with each other, it's very sweet and will soften even the least romantic reader.
Coralie attempts to flee her fathers control and the search for the missing girl continues.
I enjoyed this book, it was easy to read, had a great sense of place and full of magic realism. The characters were well written and many other marvellous employees of Professor Sardie's were introduced. I was constantly routing for Eddie and Coralie, they are likeable instantaneously and I automatically wanted the best for them. There were a few disturbing scenes that left me slightly uncomfortable but didn't prevent me from continuing to finish the book. The ending was closed and answered any questions I had. I really recommend this novel.
Have you read The Museum of Extraordinary Things? Is it your cup of tea?