Alice Hoffman paints a beautiful painting of Coney Island, New York with her novel ‘The Museum of Extraordinary Things’. This is my first novel of Alice Hoffman. However, after some search, I found that Alice Hoffman’s novel Practical Magic is also adapted into a movie starring Sandra Bullock, Nicol Kidman in 1998. Another one of her novels Aquamarine is also turned into the 2006 movie Aquamarine.
I have not read those novels but I have seen the movies and I love those movies. From the movies and now after reading this book I feel that Alice Hoffman is a specialist in writing women with strong, different characters and magic. She is a widely popular author and I don’t think she needs an introduction at all. She has been writing since 1977 which is like 4 decades now. Just wow. Writing for such a long time with such passion and strength is admirable. According to Wikipedia, she did not write any novels for 3 years and then she gifted us with ‘The Museum of Extraordinary Things’. Why did it take her 3 years? The novel is something like that. She must have done a lot of research and work to put together this 368-page fantasy mammoth. So, let’s move to the book.
Title: The Museum of Extraordinary Things
Author: Alice Hoffman
Buy at: Amazon IN
Summary: 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.
The story takes place in early 1900’s Coney Island, New York. So you have to put yourself into the state of events and mentality of that time. One side where uber riches live and at one side there’s poverty. We walk along with our two main protagonists Coralie and Ezekiel as we read the stories. Coralie is the daughter of Professor Sardie and Ezekiel is the son of a Jewish immigrant. Professor Sardie runs a Museum of Extraordinary Things (or beings) as the title of the story depicts. Prof. Sardie is also an immigrant from France and he calls himself a scientist as he experiments with living and dead to bring something new to his museum to attract more people. Unbeknown to Coralie he has his dark secrets.
Coralie is growing up as another extraordinary thing under the careful watch of her father, sheltered from the world. Prof. Sardie is training Coralie for long swims and strong body for difficult swimming conditions. When Coralie turns 10 she is introduced into her father’s museum as a mermaid taking advantage of the slight mutation with which she was born. Coralie thinks highly of her father like a naive young girl does. With age, she learns some truths which liberate her and force her to think.
Ezekiel (Ed) is the son of a tailor who lives on minimum wages in the 1900’s Coney Island. However, his life takes a 360 degree turn when he witnesses a near-death experience. Soon, he leaves his father’s side as a faithful Jewish boy and becomes a gang member of young boys for a Psychic. Soon enough he goes to live with a photographer who teaches him a thing or two about photography and leaves his equipment to Ed when he dies. During this time Ed and Coralie grow up unknown of each other’s existence.
The story takes place around two fires which bring together Coralie and Ezekiel under difficult circumstances. One fire which takes place at Triangle Shirtwaist Factory where about 140 people (young-adult girls & boys) die on the 9th floor of the building. The doors of that room are mysteriously closed that night and the room has no sprinkler system. The second fire takes place at Dreamland which is just getting active near to Prof. Sardie’s Museum. In the first fire, a Jewish girl with beautiful white hair goes missing whose search bring Ed close to Coralie, who finds the girl before him.
Hungry for more? Read the novel. 🙂
My take: Unlike normal romance, this mystery fantasy novel is a fantastic mix of history & literature. The story takes different points of view as Coralie, Ezekiel and the author tells their stories. Coney Island is painted with such beautiful words you don’t feel unknown to it for a minute. Loved the story, character growth and especially the delicacy with which the nooks and corners of New York are described in words.
Read it if: You enjoy fantasy landscape mixed with science, mystery, and romance. Finally, as I have written at the start of the article, be patient with the novel. You have to read it as a novel set in 1900’s. With the mentality and the situation of people than in mind. Otherwise, you won’t be able to enjoy it.
With this, I bid you bye-bye.. Oh yeah, if you are on Goodreads add ME.
See you again with a new post.
Have a wonderful time. 🙂