The Museum of Extraordinary Things
By Alice Hoffman
Published by Simon & Schuster (15 March 2015)
Coney Island, 1911: Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the impresario of The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a boardwalk freak show offering amazement and entertainment to the masses.
An extraordinary swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl and a 100-year-old turtle. One night, she stumbles upon a striking young man alone in the woods photographing moon-lit trees. From that moment, Coralie knows her life will never be the same.
The dashing photographer Coralie spies is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from this father's Lower East Side Orthodox community. As Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, he comes embroiled in the mystery behind a young woman's disappearance.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a book of love, mystery and conformity, carefully weaving together fact and fiction. The reader is transported to Coney Island in 1911 New York, where life is hard, particularly for anyone who doesn't fit in with the 'normal' society.
Coralie's father owns a small 'freak show' museum on the Coney Island boardwalk, filling it with anyone with a deformity or unusual ability. Coralie herself was born with webbed hands and is a gifted swimmer, trained to hold her breath under water for long periods of time.
Russian immigrant Eddie Cohen is rebelling against his orthodox Jewish past, abandoning his devout father and his faith in search of his own destiny. He inherits a photography business, and spends his days photographing and investigating horrendous crimes.
The two star-crossed lovers fall under each other's spell after just one brief meeting, yet circumstances keep them apart. Both characters have to come to terms with the past in order to move on.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things contains vivid descriptions set against a fascinating historical background of freak shows and Coney Island life. It was a little slow in places, particularly in relation to the interaction between the two main characters. I would have preferred it if the mystery that Eddie needed to solve and his actual meeting with Coralie had come earlier in the book. However, this is still an interesting story about struggling to fit in.
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.