Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

A Mmystical, Magical and Dark Tale.

The Museum of Extraordinary things by Alice Hoffman has to be one of the most enchantingly, dark story I have read this year. Based on the history of Coney Island in the 1900’s, she manages to transport you back in time to a place where people are searching for their next thrill. Where carnivals, circuses and freak shows are a place people frequent with sickening delight and an abundance of curiosity.

Hoffman introduces the reader to her heroine, Coralie Sardie, the daughter of an ex-magician, who becomes the owner of The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a place that reveals unusual creatures, people, and artefacts, which Coralie believes to be living wonders.

“I often sat upon the stairs and strained to catch a glimpse of such marvels through the dark. I believed that each remarkable creature had been touched by god’s hand, and that anything singular was an amazement to human kind.”

Coralie on her tenth birthday is introduced to the museum and on that night she makes her debut as “The Living Mermaid”, because of her webbed fingers, swimming talent and ability to hold her breath for a vast amount of time. She submerges herself in a tank of water, dyes her skin blue, and masquerades as a creature of the sea. Becoming the magical creature her father trained her to be by day, and a “plain” unremarkable girl by night, well, that’s how Coralie sees herself. I found that concept intriguing, how Coralie saw others with similar attributes as beautiful and blessed, but considered herself a “Monster”, trapped and controlled by her father, whom, commits horrific acts.

Throughout the complex plot, you meet Eddie through his first person point of view. Who once practiced as an Orthodox Jew, using his birth name Ezekiel, until he witnessed a horrific scene with his father, forgoes his name and religion, and through a harrowing journey he becomes a photographer, whom begins to investigate the mystery of a missing girl, which eventually leads him to meeting Coralie and the beginning of their obsessive, all consuming love.

This book is a paperbound juxtaposition. It’s filled with tragedy and happiness, beauty and unbearable actions of wretched ugliness, exhilaration and crippling sorrow and mostly about the realisation and the power of submitting to love can have, that a person’s belief can make you stronger.

Holman, at times, ripped my beating heart from of its cavity and squeezed until all I could feel was pain, before restoring it to its rightful place and then proceeded to cherish it until all I felt was happiness.

I have never read a book with such a lyrical quality to it’s writing, making tragedies seem poetic and all the more distressing. A magical, historical and haunting novel that left me spellbound in its wake.

“At first, the falling girls seemed like birds. Bright cardinals, bone-white doves, swooping blackbirds in velvet-collared coats. But when they hit the cement, the terrible truth of the matter was revealed. Their bodies were broken…”

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