Book Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things

“Love like this wasn’t what he’d planned or wanted or expected, surely it was indeed a trap, for even when you tried to run away, it followed you through the grass and lay down beside you, it overtook common sense and willpower.” 
 ― Alice Hoffman, The Museum of Extraordinary Things
Book Title: The Museum of Extraordinary Things
Author: Alice Hoffman
Publication Date: 2014
Genres: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
How I Found It: Book Club Choice
Goodreads Rating: 3.82 Stars
My Rating: 3.75 Stars

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.

1. I did not want to read this novel. When it came up on the list of books we were choosing from, I wasn’t drawn to this book. We have read novels that were set during this time period in New York City for book club (The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins), and I wasn’t really interested in the time period. It just didn’t interest me. That could by why out of the three books we chose from (Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi and Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy), I read this one last. Surprisingly, it was the one I enjoyed the most.

2. This was historical fiction done right. The previous book that we read set during this time period was nonfiction, which may be why I didn’t enjoy that novel as much as this one. The story in this novel was framed around two great fires in New York City’s history, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in March 1911 and the Coney Island Dreamland Fire in May 1911. These two fires form major turning points in the characters’ outlooks on life, and the whole time I was reading, I could tell that this author had done major research into the time period because it all felt so authentic.

3. I really, really am a sucker for multiple points of view. When I started reading this novel, I wasn’t too sure about how I felt about the setup. Each chapter begins with a first person narration (in italics, which is a huge turn off), then switches to third person point of view. THEN the next chapter is told from a different character’s first person then third person point of view. Overall, I was worried that it would be a bit confusing and hard to keep up with, since the characters are so vastly different. As the story went on, however, the characters’ plot lines came together and I ended up really enjoying the opportunity to see both first person and third person points of view.

4. Persistence pays off. Like I mentioned, the beginning of the novel did not immediately capture my attention, and I wasn’t sure I would finish the novel. However, as I kept reading, I became more and more embroiled in the story, and ended up really enjoying it in the end. The character development was excellent, and the unfolding of events was perfectly timed.

“The truth frightens people because it isn’t stable. It shifts every day.”

“When darkness fell, he told me to close my eyes and dream, for in my dreams I would find another world, and in my waking life I would soon enough find such a world as well…”

“The air was soft, as it often was in this lovely month, and Eddie inhaled its sweetness. He found himself uplifted as he worked, caught up in something outside himself and his petty wants and needs. The clouds drifted like ice in a tumbler. Through his lens the river seemed made of light, there was the shimmer, and for a moment the world seemed whole to him.”

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