Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Review

Before I get started, here's the thing. They're all playing in the office, leaving me to drink coffee in peace and watch reruns of CSI. But. I know what they're doing in there. They're using all the computer paper and cutting it into little pieces and leaving them all over the floor and not putting the caps on any of the markers and drying them out and making a huge mess.  So. I should go in there and crack some skulls.

But. They're happy!! And playing together!! And I'm drinking coffee!! Alone! In peace!! If I go in there, they'll touch me with their sticky marker stained fingers. They'll want food. They'll start whining and crying and fighting with each other.

But the mess!!

Ugh. Decisions are hard.

And now for the review. 

From the back of the book: "Coney Island, 1911: Coralie Sardie is the daughter of a self-proclaimed scientist and professor who acts as the impresario of The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a boardwalk freak show offering amazement and entertainment to the masses. An extraordinary swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a 100 year old turtle, in her father's "museum." She swims regularly in New York's Hudson River, and one night stumbles upon a striking young man alone in the woods photographing moon-lit trees. From that moment, Coralie knows her life will never be the same.

The dashing photographer Coralie spies is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father's Lower East Side Orthodox community. As Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the mystery behind a young woman's disappearance and the dispute between factory owners and labourers. In the tumultuous times that characterized life in New York between the world wars, Coralie and Eddie's lives come crashing together in Alice Hoffman's mesmerizing, imaginative, and romantic new novel."

Okay, first of all, as I'm typing this out, I realize I didn't read the back of the book first. I got a mass email from Goodreads saying Alice Hoffman had a new book (the algorithm at Goodreads must know how much I LOOOOVED The Dovekeepers) and so I peeked at the reviews (some people said it was everything the Night Circus "should have been") and I added it to my list.
It was NOT everything the Night Circus should have been. It was a totally different kind of book. But the point is, I had no idea going in that Coralie was going to be part of her father's freakshow, and I didn't know Eddie was going to become a photographer or get caught up in the missing girl case.
More than anything, this book made me wish- made me LONG- that I had visited New York when I had the chance. Her descriptions are breathtaking (because she's so amazing, duh) and I just felt like a chump for never having been to Coney Island or Manhattan, for never seeing the Hudson River or Central Park.
At its core (for me, at least) this book was about the relationship between these children (well, young adults) and their fathers. Which, of course, reminded me so much of The Dovekeepers.
I don't remember how or why I would have learned about this, but when I was younger, I learned about factory workers in the early 1900s. I learned that they had children in there, and they either weren't allowed, or weren't supposed to, or something, so they locked them in so no one could see them? (I didn't pay too much attention, wherever I was learning about this). And so when the factories caught fire, the children were trapped and either burned alive or leapt from the windows.
So, when that was happening in the really hit me hard.  It was HORRIFYING, and she wrote the scene exquisitely.  And it of course made me think of September 11 and all those people leaping from the Towers.  
But that was the most remarkable scene for me.  The story was somewhat lackluster and predictable, and I didn't particulary love Eddie or Coralie. I did love Maureen and the Wolfman and the liveryman. 
I think, for me, the main problem (and by 'problem' I mean four stars instead of five, this book was still magnificent) was that The Dovekeepers has ruined me. It was just so perfect, so completely and utterly jaw-droopingly brilliant.  Will I never be able to enjoy another Alive Hoffman novel? I'm getting worried I won't. This was enough like Dovekeepers that I couldn't help comparing. And for me, that just sort of spoiled it.

I don't know. I highly recommend this book, but I wouldn't go so far as to say stop whatever you're doing right now and go get a copy. I think it would mean more for people who hold New York dear to their hearts. Or maybe people with awful fathers? I don't know. It was really really good. Just not as good as some others.
Sorry for such a conflicted review!!! But I guess you can take that into account too, aren't the best books always the ones that make us think, that keep turning over and over in our heads, confusing us, making us wonder? So yeah. Four out of five stars. Just go read it.
But first, read The Dovekeepers.
*Disclaimer: I received a free advance copy of this book (the UK publication)  from Net Galley in exchange for my review. But obviously, my opinion, or rather, lack of opinion, is completely my own.


  1. I saw this on NetGalley and was bummed that it was UK only...but I was hoping that you'd read it and review it!

    I'm like number 400 on the waiting list at the library, so there's that. I haven't read The Dovekeeprs yet... maybe I'll start there.

    1. You should because Dovekeepers is still one of the best books I've ever read. And I just read Life After Life- AMAZING.