The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Novel Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
From the beloved, best-selling author of The Dovekeepers, a mesmerizing new novel about the electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the 20th century.
Coney Island: Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a boardwalk freak show that amazes and stimulates the crowds. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father's "museum", alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a 100-year-old turtle. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man photographing 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 an apprentice tailor. When Eddie captures with his camera 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.
New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her 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 Hoffman at her most spellbinding.
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|Listening Length||12 hours and 18 minutes|
|Narrator||Judith Light, Grace Gummer, Zach Appelman|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||February 18, 2014|
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster Audio|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #18,583 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#34 in Jewish Literature (Audible Books & Originals)
#160 in Jewish Historical Fiction
#200 in Jewish Literature & Fiction
Top reviews from the United States
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The novel is filled with memorable characters, Coralie the daughter of a so called professor who runs a sideshow (which he calls a museum) of sorts and Eddie, a young photographer. Along with the two main characters are men and women who are deformed in some way and others who are con artists and criminals. Everyone has two sides which are developed lovingly through the novel. The grotesque are shown for the humanity and love they have and the rich and handsome are shown for their ugliness (with one exception).
I was most fascinated by the authors use of two elements, fire and water, to symbolize the passions and conflicts in the novel. Fire is primarily used as an image of burning away the false to convey truth and it is used as a symbol for hate. It is the destroyer and a voice. As Ms. Hoffman states near the end of the novel "..fire has a voice....(Eddie) recognized its destroying call." Water on the other hand is as a metaphor for the mysterious, the unseen, and sometimes the profane. Water creates mist which is often used as a symbol to cover up something.
There were times I almost could not bear to continue to read it because the story had reach a profane or dangerous turn. However, at the end I could hard put it down and end it. There is a very tender letter at the end summarizing the tone.
I could go on for pages about this touching, haunting book. Usually I pass on to someone else my books. I am not entirely sure that I will readily part with this one. It is like a fine wine or dinner - it is meant to be savored.
Top reviews from other countries
However, as the book goes on I started getting, to be honest, confused. Why is each chapter divided into a first person and third person section? It seems there's no reason. Each chapter also seems to be from the perspective of one of the two main characters, but every now and then slips into the frame of someone else. There's a lot of mystery hinted at throughout the book, but none of it turns into anything tangible. Same goes for a lot of the plot strands. They're there and then they're either tied up or left unsatisfactorily and you're left wondering what was the point.
This isn't the type of book to really focus too much on plot holes, but I will say there are some points where characters act completely at odds with how they've been so far portrayed purely for the author's convenience and that there is a great disconnect between what we're led to believe will happen early on in the book and what actually comes to pass.
As mentioned, I thought the writing was so, so good. It's just a shame it had nowhere to go.
Coralie is born with a slight physical impairment and is exploited by her father, self-proclaimed professor of science and curator of a museum of curiosities. To add to her mystique she is kept apart from others, growing up solitary and self-conscious.
Eddie is a Jewish immigrant, brought to New York was a child by his father following the death of his mother. Her loss and the traumas of the journey impact Eddie profoundly, but not as much as his father’s seeming inability to cope with either - the boy Eddie is made to feel responsible for his father’s well-being. One day Eddie just walks away, choosing a life apart from his faith and his community.
The novel follows the stories of these two protagonists, both drawn in subtle, sensitive prose, as they make their inexorable way toward one another. Set against the bustling, colourful, emerging cities of New York and Manhattan, this is the coming of age story of two lost souls and also of a place. I loved the descriptions of the wild places by the Hudson river, the swamps and rough open commons being gradually swallowed by the metropolis, the wild creatures and wilder men being pushed to the edge of existence.
The story is written in a variety of narrative forms; the first and in the third person. In the first person sections it was hard to tell which character was speaking. The first person sections were italicised - I really disliked that. I could see no reason and no benefit for it. I wished the writer had had the courage of her own narrative voice to tell their stories. Her voice and story-telling in the third person sections was much more compelling.
This is an unusual book and I cannot think of much that compares with it. The Night Circus, perhaps, by Erin Morgenstern, or North of Here by Laurel Saville.
I loved the setting. I really enjoyed fiction set in circuses, freak shows, funland’s and those sorts of places. They have huge potential. The author brings the setting to life. Coney Island and the sideshows and exhibits become a place of mystery and wonder if a little sinister and creepy.
I loved the characters. I liked how the novel alternated between Coralie and Eddie’s perspective, showing how their two lives become gradually, fatally linked. Coralie and Eddie are great characters. I also loved the other people Coralie encounters growing up at her father’s museum.
Coralie’s father is a horrible person. His exhibit is little more than a freak show, and one he rules with sheer cruelty. I was horrified when Coralie, with her deformed hands becomes a mermaid at the museum. What kind of monster could do that to his child. He does worse and my flesh crawled at times.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things is not an easy book to read. Coralie’s father is a monster. The book is, however, a joy to read.
The two main characters, Coralie and Eddie, get alternating first person narrative to tell their back story, and this worked really well. Both are in their own way outcasts, and both are rebels. There's an inevitability in the writing - you know they're going to meet, you know they are going to fall in love, but you also believe they will be doomed. I love this fairy tale quality to Alice Hoffman's writing, they way she invokes the atmosphere you remember from the likes of The Ice Queen or Red Riding Hood, of beauty condemned, but what takes her stories way beyond fairy tale is the complexity of her characters. Eddie and Coralie are not the 'goodies', they are twisted and tortured by their history, they are vengeful and they are also at times irritatingly slow to react, weak even. In other words, real!
I was less sure about Coralie's father, the Professor, who was very much a classic 'baddy', and I'm not sure why. I didn't understand his possessiveness or his motivation, I didn't buy that it was just greed. Okay, so he saw every human as a potential scientific experiment, thought only about how he could exploit them, but if this was the case, why did he go to the trouble of making up Coralie's history, inventing a pretty story and giving her a set of pearls, which implies he cares about her, or at least cares about her opinion of him. It was a bit of a false note that kept playing every time he walked onto the page, for me.
There were a vast array of characters who formed a backdrop to the story, a bit like a tableau vivant - they were there, they were distracting and they were unsettling, but they didn't actually play an active part. Though of course they did, because they were the backdrop to the story, the perpetual, ever-changing reminder to the reader, that we have a very narrow view of what 'normal' is. I've noticed in a few reviews that readers found the 'freak show' descriptions cruel or just too difficult to take. But I thought the understated way Alice Hoffman wrote these characters was incredibly effective - by simply presenting them, not making too much of them, you thought about them a lot more - if that makes sense.
There was a deal more history in the story than usual, covering Coney Island and the fire that destroyed it, photography, and the fires in the garment district in 1911. At times, I couldn't help feeling that the political point was being hammered home just a little too powerfully, or that injustices she had come across in her research were being allowed to take over the book a bit too much. Is that the fault of my expectations? Maybe. It was odd, because the history was exploitative, repressive, vile, in some places simply mortifying, but in a way, the events themselves were emotionally downplayed, and what should have been heart-wrenching, for example, simply wasn't. Maybe this is because Alice Hoffman likes to present things and let you decide? Not sure.
I love Alice Hoffman's books. I really enjoyed this one, and I will definitely go back and read it again. But before that, I'm going to rediscover some old favourites of hers, because this has reminded me of how much I enjoyed those too.