A magical romance found in historical fiction
Author Alice Hoffman is a very accomplished woman with many wonderful romance novels under her belt. Having written over 30 books for various age groups, she has placed herself up there with some of the most accomplished romance writers of our time such as Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks, and Nora Roberts, just to name a few. Each of these writers has his or her own unique style of how to tell a story. Hoffman seems to venture more along the fantastical fiction route; however, she has recently been venturing into the more realistic historical fiction realm. With the success of her 2012 historical fiction novel The Dovekeepers, Hoffman created another historical fiction tale of romance in 2014: The Museum of Extraordinary Things.
Two young souls live in New York at the turn of the century. Coralie Sardie is the daughter to the impresario of The Museum of Extraordinary Things: a sort of freak show that houses creatures such as the Wolfman and the Bearded Lady. Coralie is also an attraction in her father’s museum, appearing as a Mermaid, though the young girl is more of a prisoner in her home than she realizes. Eddie Cohen is a Russian immigrant who migrated to New York with his father. Not wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, Eddie runs away from his life as a tailor’s apprentice and seeks a job in photography. Now the year is 1911 and two catastrophic fires erupt in New York that will change both Coralie’s and Eddie’s lives by intertwining their paths to bring them together.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a well-thought out, well-researched, and well-written piece of historical fiction. Historically speaking, Hoffman hit many points very accurately. The two fires that occurred in New York in 1911 (the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the fire that burned down Coney Island’s Dreamland Amusement Park) were terrible tragedies and Hoffman knew just how to write how awful these two events were. During these scenes, it was almost difficult to keep reading due to how terrible it must have been for the people who were actually there. Another wonderfully accurate aspect of Hoffman’s story was how close the “attractions” were at the Museum. Many people paid to see the odd and deformed creatures in the freak shows and circuses of the time, never really caring that these creatures were actual people. In these freak shows and circuses, the attractions would become really close to one another to form a tightknit family and Hoffman did a very good job at showing this closeness.
The characters were very well done. Coralie’s father was a crazed man who only wanted money and became a twisted, realistic villain, in a sense. Coralie’s nanny, Maureen, is not so likeable towards the beginning of the story, but quickly becomes one of the most interesting characters as the story progresses. The two main characters, Coralie and Eddie, had strengths and weaknesses. In an interview, Hoffman said that the novel was originally supposed to be about Eddie and Eddie is present more than Coralie. This is not a bad thing: he is a very fascinating character and has beautiful character development, though his teenage angst and his childish grudge against his father becomes a bit tedious to read at times. Coralie was a very fascinating character and it would have been nice to read more about her transformation from obedient daughter to rebelling against her father’s twisted way of living.
Possessing the ability to weave together magical works of romantic fiction is a wonderful gift and a gift Hoffman has. With her beautiful style of writing, The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a great work of fiction that both history buffs and romantic readers will enjoy. Though it has some slow points, it is also a wonderful introduction story for readers who have not read any of Hoffman’s works and it will make these same readers want to read more of her earlier works. In the same interview mentioned before, Hoffman stated the next book she is writing, The Marriage of Opposites, will probably be her last work of historical fiction because “they’re so much work!” Hopefully after a break, Hoffman will go back to writing historical fiction for she has done such a wonderful job with the genre and could definitely offer more beautiful works of fiction to readers everywhere.
Originally published at www.examiner.com on May 24, 2015.