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The Museum of Extraordinary Things – Alice Hoffman

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Title: The Museum of Ordinary Things
Author: Alice Hoffman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Date of Publication: 18 February 2014
Number of Pages: 240

Rating:  2-star

Summary: Mesmerizing and illuminating, Alice Hoffman’s “The Museum of Extraordinary Things” is the story of an electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century. 

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. 

With its colorful crowds of bootleggers, heiresses, thugs, and idealists, New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. “The Museum of Extraordinary Things” is Alice Hoffman at her most spellbinding.

Review: The Museum of Ordinary Things read well (eventually) but felt rather contrived. There were sections where you felt smacked in the face by an historical fact, as though Hoffman was hammering home the point of how clever she is. Hoffman is clever, there’s no argument there but I don’t feel I gained anything from having read this.

A few fellow reviews have suggested this book relies too heavily on the success of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and I feel this statement is accurate. Unfortunately for Hoffman, I didn’t really like The Night Circus either so the early comparisons of the two were a hindrance.

With The Museum I didn’t particularly care for the writing or the story. With The Night Circus I liked the story but found the writing to heavy handed. These two complement each other and if you allowed your mind to blend them together, the result is a satisfying story.

There was also the feeling that The Museum wasn’t grounded in a specific location. I know it’s set in New York but my imagination was building an image of London. There was no real delineation of cities for me. I went to write, perhaps it’s because I haven’t visited New York but I didn’t experience this feeling with A Little Life so can only conclude the problem is with the writer, not the reader.

Even the characters were problematic. B the BookAddict writes “A weak-willed female character who has a perverted father with a twisted mind, an unattractive selfish male character set against an cruel backdrop, two story-lines which cross far too late in the novel” and I have to agree with this analysis. It is difficult to say at which point this book developed severe problems and whether it’s Hoffman’s fault or that of an editor. Either way, you won’t miss much if you give this one a pass.

 

What I’m Reading

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Hanya Yanagihara-A Little Life

 

I am amazed, inspired, terrified, overwhelmed by this book. It’s a frustrating roller coaster of words and ideas and even though I have moments of wanting to put it down and walk away every , I just can’t. It keeps sucking me back in. I am staggered by the flow of the story and the easy pace it develops. I’m completely in awe of this woman who managed to keep all of the threads together. It’s easy to see why Yanagihara has just been shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and at 720 pages, I’m glad I get to spend April with this book.