Book Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman (2/5)

27 Aug

I’ve tried Alice Hoffman before. That time was also for a book club and we read The Ice Queen. I gave it 1 out of 5 stars. But I tried again (for the same book club) and this time I’m a bit nicer. 2 stars.

ExtraordinaryThe Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Summary from Goodreads:

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 one-hundred-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.

I had a lot of problems with this book. Coralie and Eddie were both interesting, but Hoffman’s style made me less engaged in them that I could have been. Everything she writes seems unimportant because I feel she grazes over everything, including the horrible Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster. Eddie seemed so removed from the action that I felt removed. Coralie had no spine and was hard to relate to. Unless you grew up under an oppressive and poor father, I don’t think you could relate to her. You could only feel sorry for her. I thought the book was excruciatingly slow to start. The fire wasn’t until half way into the book! I was mentally done at that point. The ending was good and I enjoyed that, but it didn’t make up for all I’d had to slug through up to that point. I was really disappointed.

The characters felt more modern than I anticipated. Eddie was a very typical rebel nowadays, not what I was expecting from the time period. It was somewhat believable, but I think it was a bit of a stretch to help readers relate to historical characters. I thought Coralie and her father were very well set in the time period. I liked that the characters were from the fringes of society. It made them more fun to read.

Eddie was my favorite. Maybe due to his rebel status, I found him the most relatable. We’ve all rebelled in some way or another and Eddie was a good character for everyone to like. He had a heart of gold, which definitely helped.

Alice Hoffman Image via the New York Times

Alice Hoffman
Image via the New York Times

I liked the descriptions of the human oddities the most. Hoffman wrote about them in such a way so that I could forget their deformities. They became very human, wich is how Coralie must have seen them. They were all people, no matter how they looked and how others looked at them.

The parts about Coralie’s father whoring her out bothered me. There’s a line between making your daughter swim in an ice-cold river to draw customers and making her swim naked and the Professor had no problem crossing that line. The book seemed very fantastical and almost childlike until that point and I was bothered by it because of the contrast.

Coralie and Eddie pursued their own fortunes and that’s what made them happy. Eddie couldn’t be stuck under his father’s guidance and follow in his footsteps. He found his own way. Similarly, Coralie was trapped but not able to escape young, like Eddie. Her father was a tyrant instead of a shadow. They both needed to escape and finding each other was good. The book is a good example of finding your own way in life and being happy with it.

Writer’s Takeaway: The style Hoffman uses seems to glaze over major events because of the ethereal feel. The factory fire seemed like a dream instead of a real-life disaster to me and it was hard to give it the attention it deserved. I think the writing didn’t focus enough on how the characters were feeling and reacting, focusing more on what was going on and the feelings would have helped ground the action.

Not one I enjoyed, but better than the other title I’ve read by this author. 2 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
The Museum of Extraordinary Things – Coney Island, New York – Alice Hoffman | The Book Trail
Book Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman | Caffeine and Books
Fields and Fantasies presents… The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman | Bookshelf Fantasies
Review of The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman (coming in February, 2014) | Navigating the Stormy Shelves


4 Responses to “Book Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman (2/5)”

  1. ryandejonghe August 27, 2015 at 1:35 PM #

    Haha, ouch. I’ve heard good things about this author, but there’s never an author for everyone (well, maybe). Thank you for the review. The book does sound interesting, though.


    • Sam August 27, 2015 at 4:00 PM #

      I know some people love her but I’m not one of them. It’s a stylistic thing because her plot summaries sound amazing. I guess it’s good to know what I don’t like. Happy reading!


  2. Mari September 13, 2015 at 4:50 PM #

    Sam, as always, I enjoyed your review. You were slightly more generous that I was in rating, however; I gave it 1 star.
    At times I was so-o-o-o bored with her drawn-out style, and just wanted to get on with the story. Overall the story itself was amusing? clever? – not sure of the appropriate term – but it took too long to develop, too long for the 2 to meet after their first encounter….
    I agree with you that the relationship/control Coralie’s father had was pretty disgusting. On her 10th birthday, when he finally allowed her into The Museum, and when her had her get into her tank, I was reminded of Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and never got that comparison out of my head (although Coralie’s “father” was certainly the more evil.)
    One point you raised really hit home for me when you mentioned that Eddie was “removed” from the action during the fire. My mother is a photographer, and I believe the camera can be an actual physical filter, used to disconnect the photographer from life: they observe, rather than experience the events. That being said, and since I read this so near to 9/11, I was drawn into the emotion of the experience, even without Eddie’s connection.
    All in all it was just ok – I won’t bother with another of this author’s books.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


    • Sam September 13, 2015 at 5:20 PM #

      I hadn’t thought about the emotional removal being purposeful. The camera could make him more removed from the situation, that’s very true. As I said, this is the second Hoffman I e read and didn’t enjoy either one. At least I can say it wasn’t the subject of the first book, I really just don’t like her style. I wish an editor would have been brave enough to tell her to cut a lot of it out. It was just too slow. See you tomorrow!


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