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The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Novel Hardcover – February 18, 2014
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*Starred Review* After her imaginative foray into ancient Judaic history in The Dovekeepers (2011), Hoffman breathes fiery life into an enrapturing fairy tale and historical fiction mash-up. Professor Sardie, a fanatic with a secret past and a Dr. Frankenstein aura, runs the Museum of Extraordinary Things on Coney Island in 1911, showcasing “living wonders,” including his motherless daughter, web-fingered Coralie, who performs in a tank as the Mermaid. Ezekiel Cohen, a motherless Orthodox Jewish immigrant from Russia, abandons his tailor father and his faith, calls himself Eddie, and devotes himself to photography. As Coralie’s father puts her at grave risk to perpetuate what he hopes will be a profitable hoax, Eddie documents the shocking and tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and tries to solve the mystery of a young woman’s disappearance. Both Coralie and Eddie end up experiencing unnerving epiphanies in the glorious and imperiled wilderness on the northern coast of Manhattan. With a Jewish mystic and a distinguished Wolfman, ravishing evocations of the rapidly transforming city and the tawdry yet profoundly human magnetism of Coney Island, dramatic perspectives on criminal greed and the coalescence of the labor movement, and keen appreciation for the new clarity photography fostered, Hoffman unveils both horror and magic in this transfixing tale of liberation and love in a metropolis of lies, yearning, and metamorphosis. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Extensive promotion and an author tour will amplify the appeal of one of best-selling Hoffman’s most incandescent novels. --Donna Seaman
“Hoffman’s book earns its legitimacy through an eye-opening plethora of period detailing, coupled with the author’s overarching outrage at urban workplace abuses….You can’t help but admire the author’s fervor for telling stories and the democratic manner in which she disseminates the love of reading.” (Jan Stuart The Boston Globe)
“A lavish tale about strange yet sympathetic people, haunted by the past and living in bizarre circumstances… Imaginative…Once Coralie and Eddie discover each other, their profound, mystical attraction and mutual obsession become forces of their own, driving the story forward.” (Katharine Weber The New York Times Book Review)
“Spellbinding… Hoffman’s penchant for the magical is on full display in this world filled with rogues, strivers, corrupt politicians, Gilded Age riches and debilitating poverty. The chaos and grandeur of New York City at the time make it a character in its own right, as monstorous and intoxicating as the circus sideshow that traps Coralie and makes her a star.” (Andrea Walker People)
“Alice Hoffman employs her trademark alchemy of finding the magical amid the ordinary in her mesmerizing new novel.…If you're looking for an enchanting love story rich with history and a sense of place, step right up to The Museum of Extraordinary Things.” (USA Today)
“The year 1911 had an apocalyptic feel in New York City as fire devastated the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Greenwich Village and destroyed the amusement park Dreamland that rose above Coney Island. Manhattan wasn’t yet entirely tamed by concrete and people still believed in the fantastical. Alice Hoffman, whose brand of magic realism really should have a patent pending, makes lovely work of the era in her new city-centric novel, The Museum of Extraordinary Things.” (Sherryl Connelly New York Daily News)
“Hoffman masterfully creates two characters of depth and emotion in Eddie and Coralie….[She] does not disappoint .” (Amanda St. Amand The St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
“The Museum of Extraordinary Things, like Ragtime, is packed with history and mystery, an introspective and full-bodied fairy tale for adult readers.” (Julie Bookman Atlanta Journal Constitution)
“Alice Hoffman's storytelling magic is on abundant display in her new novel….Hoffman expertly weaves the future lovers' monologues with a third-person account moving through the spring of 1911 to create a wonderfully rich narrative tapestry. Her prose is as lyrically beautiful as ever, evoking the teeming complexity of New York ….The action-packed story line sweeps through labor strife, a missing Triangle worker eventually fished from the Hudson, the exposure of her murderer and a bravura plot twist that reveals the truth about Coralie's mother.” (Newsday)
“Fans of Hoffman will not be disappointed. Lush imagery, extensive use of period details, well-drawn, and vivid prose make this a sumptuous read…a rich reading experience.” (The Seattle Times)
"Part Ray Bradbury and part Steven Millhauser...the delicate balance between the everyday world and the extraordinary is balanced more in favor of the world we know, though not many writers describe that world as elegantly as Hoffman does....First-rate...Vividly drawn...Hoffman gives us extraordinary things and extraordinary times. And more." (Ed Siegel The Artery, WBUR)
“[Hoffman is] a master of craft and a lover of language. Each sentence shows precision and deliberation….The Museum of Extraordinary Things lives up to the ‘extraordinary’ of its title, a work of passion that celebrates a place and an era even while it explores a particularly dark moment in New York’s history.” (Zach Powers The Savannah Morning News)
“Classic Hoffman: a bewitching world of time and place (in this case, Coney Island and its boardwalk freak show in the early 1900s) suffused with magical moments, a mysterious disappearance and romance.” (Darcy Jacobs Family Circle)
“A mesmerizing new novel about the electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls during the volatile first decades of the 20th century.” (Publisher's Weekly)
“Hoffman breathes fiery life into an enrapturing fairy tale and historical fiction mash-up….Ravishing…Dramatic…Hoffman unveils both horror and magic in this transfixing tale of liberation and love in a metropolis of lies, yearning, and metamorphosis.” (Booklist (starred review))
“The Museum of Extraordinary Things is the mesmerizing new novel about the electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century.” (Ann McDonald Red Carpet Crash)
“In The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman mounts an arresting display: a New York City tale rich with literary inspiration, history, and urban legend. Readers often talk about being immersed in novels; this is a satisfying swim in tidal waters. Take the plunge.” (Gregory Maquire, author of Wicked and Out of Oz)
“Alice Hoffman understands and delivers the ordinary and the extraordinary in this contemporary novel of the past. As always, her powerful, elegant prose embraces tremendous passion with constant, clear-eyed compassion.” (Amy Bloom, author of Away)
"Beautiful, harrowing, a major contribution to twenty-first century literature." (Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate in Literature, on The Dovekeepers)
"As always, Alice Hoffman amazes me with her ability to use words the way other master artists use watercolors, painting the dreamlike world of a girl who grows up in a hall of wonders only to learn that something as ordinary as love is the greatest marvel of all. Many novels these days are called 'stunning' but this one truly IS: part love story, part mystery, part history, and all beauty." (Jodi Picoult, author of The Storyteller and Lone Wolf)
Top customer reviews
I read this novel a little bit slower than I normally do though because I didn't fall in love with the characters. I wasn't very interested in them. I feel there was too much going on and the characters weren't developed enough. I've read other Alice Hoffman books and felt the same way about too many characters that aren't developed enough but I was still interested in the characters that were developed. With this one I didn't feel this way. At times I was just reading it to get it over with.
The novel is filled with memorable characters, Coralie the daughter of a so called professor who runs a sideshow (which he calls a museum) of sorts and Eddie, a young photographer. Along with the two main characters are men and women who are deformed in some way and others who are con artists and criminals. Everyone has two sides which are developed lovingly through the novel. The grotesque are shown for the humanity and love they have and the rich and handsome are shown for their ugliness (with one exception).
I was most fascinated by the authors use of two elements, fire and water, to symbolize the passions and conflicts in the novel. Fire is primarily used as an image of burning away the false to convey truth and it is used as a symbol for hate. It is the destroyer and a voice. As Ms. Hoffman states near the end of the novel "..fire has a voice....(Eddie) recognized its destroying call." Water on the other hand is as a metaphor for the mysterious, the unseen, and sometimes the profane. Water creates mist which is often used as a symbol to cover up something.
There were times I almost could not bear to continue to read it because the story had reach a profane or dangerous turn. However, at the end I could hard put it down and end it. There is a very tender letter at the end summarizing the tone.
I could go on for pages about this touching, haunting book. Usually I pass on to someone else my books. I am not entirely sure that I will readily part with this one. It is like a fine wine or dinner - it is meant to be savored.
Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things is an extraordinary thing itself. Yes, it has all of the above elements, any one of which would make me pick it up in a bookstore and think about making a purchase. What it also has is a rich storyline, with engaging, complicated characters, and a trio of narrative voices that leave one hungry for more.
The first two characters I mentioned, the mermaid and the photographer, provide two of the narrative voices. The third is a traditional omniscient narrator. Each chapter opens in one of the two character voices, then transitions to the omniscient narrator. In odd-numbered chapters we get the mermaid. In even-numbered chapters we get the photographer. And each of the three voices sings, distinct and true, creating a story that lets us move in and out of the hearts of its characters, seeing events from multiple perspectives.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things balances dark and light. It’s full of menace, but never becomes hopeless. This is one of those novels that’s worth purchasing while it’s still only available in hardback.