Book: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
Release Date: February 18th 2014
Tags: Historical / Romance / Deformities / New York / 1911 / Trigger Warning / Phsyical Abuse / Sexual Abuse / Emotional Abuse / Sexual Asault / Standalone
Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River. The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father’s Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as a tailor’s apprentice. When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things is one of those books that I had seen around for a while and that I have been super curious about. When I saw it in the library I knew I had to snatch it up. I wanted to go into it without knowing much about it but I’m not sure if this was a wise decision. The book certainly has left me very conflicted.
It tells the story of Coralie Sardy, a young girl who is the daughter to the professor who owns the museum of extraordinary things. The museum is a boardwalk side show where people like a mermaid and a wolfman are displayed. Those that get shunned by society for being different. Abnormal. She meets the photographer Eddie whose story we also get alongside hers. I think it is wrong to categorize this book as fantasy or as magical realism though.
When I started this book I was quite honestly bored. The writing itself is a lot of tell and no show. Things like Coralie feels sad and things like that. Show us through things. Don’t say it. There is also not much vibrancy in the way it was written. It is dense in places with a lot of descriptions. Perhaps it was intentional to display the time period but it made it very uninteresting. I have to admit that I also have little interest in New York in 1911. This was my first book by Alice Hoffman and I was expecting more of her writing wise than what I got to be honest after everything I have heard of her.
The book has long chapters. Each chapter focuses on one character and is then divided in what I think are like diary entries by the characters that look back on their growing up and even some present events as we near the ending. After that we get a third person point of view of the present. The pacing was incredibly slow and our two main characters don’t properly meet or interact until the midway point of the story. Which is kind of sad since they fall in ‘love’. The book starts incredibly slow. It is a bit better nearing the ending and then I felt the ending was rushed.
Like I said, the romance between the two characters was not ideal. They have very little interaction with one another I feel but are in love. I understand that perhaps in that time period things went different and it was harder to spend time together. But even then, having seen someone once and falling madly in love with them seems unrealistic.
However this book is not just about that, and I’d rather take a gamble and say it is not at all. As the story continued I felt myself warming up to Coralie and Eddy. While I might not have felt the pacing or the format, we did really delve into these two characters. We got to know them pretty well and once there were some revelations about their lives I cared about them.
Because before you pick this book up I feel you need to know that it can be very triggering. Next to the deformity element, Coralie is sexually, physically and emotionally abused alongside her caretaker Maureen by her father and other men. Off and on the page. The museum is the backdrop. It is about Coralie (and Maureen) who find their strength to stick up for themselves, however little some of the actions might be. That is what ended up drawing me into the story.
If the format and pacing had been different I think I could have loved this book a lot.