Pages: 338 pages
Finished: Apr. 24, 2010
First Published: June 22, 2010
Publisher: Henry Holt
Genre: Historical Fiction
Light from April's full moon swept over the Museum's facade and down the building's marble veneer.
Acquired: Received a review copy from the publisher, Henry Holt.
Reason for Reading: I'm a fan of the time period and as macabre as it sounds, old-time circus "freak" shows.
Set in 1865, the year that Lincoln was killed, New York, this story takes place in The American Museum an establishment of Oddities and Curiosities run by one Phineas Taylor Barnum (P.T. Barnum). It was here on the fourth floor that his Curiosities lived: the fat lady, the giantess, the strong man, the conehead, the rubberman and Bartholomew Fortuno, the World's Skinniest Man. Late one night Barthy sees Barnum leading a woman totally covered in wraps into the building. Mystery surrounds this woman, she is to be a new show but Barnum is slow to let out what her "talent" is and the others all gossip and slowly find things out until it is finally revealed. Barnum himself is totally infatuated with this woman, bringing Mrs. Barnum, the senior partner, onto the scene causing problems for everyone. But Bartholomew has also become enamoured of her and become her friend and likewise she has befriended him. This is ultimately a story of love, how deep love can run, and can it survive extreme divisions.
I was hooked on this book from the beginning. I have a (what some may call macabre) interest in the old circus side-shows (freak shows, if you will) and this book is set in my favourite time period so there really was no doubt I was going to like it. The story is not based on any actual real historical incident but the background historical details are real. Barnum ran The American Museum for many years before he went into the circus business in his 60s. The story is very compelling and is more about the side-show performers than it is about Barnum. The narrative is told from Bartholomew's point of view; he has a unique sense of his strangeness and is quite proud of it but he becomes challenged as to whether he is truly one of the Curiosities, who is that way by nature as he claims to be, or a Gaff (a fake) who has chosen to be the way he is. This becomes a big theme in the book as does a love triangle that develops, well in reality two love triangles consisting of the same two people with different thirds.
The book is certainly well-written, attention grabbing and page-turning. I read the book withing 24 hours. There are two big reveals, obviously the secret of the new performers oddity as I've mentioned and another which isn't revealed until the end of the book. My problem was that I guessed the first as soon as the character was introduced and the second shortly afterwards so my race to the finish was not to find out what the reveal was but simply to see how the characters would react. It was fun getting there and I did enjoy the book but I can't say the ending pleased me much. I would have liked it to have gone a little further with two specific, separate characters before ending. But that's me.