The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
Publication Date: March 19th, 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Romance
Series Status: Stand alone
Format and Source: Paperback, Owned
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
Quick warning: Some things in here may be considered to be spoilers.
This is a book that I loved while I was reading it, but now that I look back it I can see the flaws. My main issue is that I find the blurb to be misleading. You expect it to be this book about love between a perfect man and a strange girl, and for them to mean at the beginning so we can follow their slowly forming love throughout the book, but that doesn’t happen.
Coralie is trapped in the museum, living her life as a specimen in a show. Her father is a cruel man who rules her life as if she is his own personal puppet. Eddie, believing his father to be a coward, left his remaining family and religion to make a life for himself. He is much shadier and flawed than I expected him to be. I do like this aspect rather a lot though. I like that each character is developed well, to the point where they could have existed in the real world.
What I don’t like is the fact that it took two thirds of the book for them to actually meet, and when they did it was love at first sight. Another thing that really bugged me was the the author seemed to skim over the subject of them being together. In the scene where they were properly alone for the first time it was vague with little to no dialogue at all. Where there were parts I was looking forward to so I could see the development between them, it was not much more than a couple rough paragraphs grazing over the subject.
The main focus on this book appeared to be the drama and changes happening within both Coralie’s and Eddie’s lives before they were together, and how they were both somehow linked. While these were both pulled off brilliantly, with Eddie trying to find himself and the missing girl, and Coralie struggling against the tight leash her father has her on, I feel as if this was closer to a murder mystery than a story about star-crossed lovers.
Don’t worry, there are some good points about this book. While I don’t agree with the whole love at first sight malarkey, I do think both Eddie and Coralie are perfect for each other. They are similar in the fact that they are almost opposites. Whilst Eddie ran from his father, who was nothing but loving and kind and did not stop him from making his own path, Coralie is stuck living a life she hates due to her father. Also I think their temperaments match well too.
Another thing I do like is how bloody well it was written. The writing was detailed, and it explained the intricate differences between 1911 and now well. It was like an enjoyable history lesson where I didn’t end up falling asleep half-way through. It reminded me of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender for some reason, though I’m not entirely sure why. I don’t know whether it was due to them both being based around similar eras, or because the tragedies they both depicted.
Either way, don’t let this book fool you. This isn’t a love story, but a book about breaking free so you can chose your own path through life, and, if it that sort of thing intrigues you, then I suggest you read it.