The Museum of Extraordinary Things

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

A Novel

Book - 2014
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Mesmerizing and illuminating, Alice Hoffman's The Museum of Extraordinary Things is the story of an electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century.

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.

With its colorful crowds of bootleggers, heiresses, thugs, and idealists, New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is Alice Hoffman at her most spellbinding.
Publisher: New York : Scribner, c2014
Edition: 1st Scribner hardcover ed
ISBN: 9781451693560
Branch Call Number: HOF
Characteristics: 368 p. ;,24 cm

Opinion

From Library Staff

Excellent writing. Great Story. Recommended by Patricia.


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pattyloucor67
Sep 04, 2016

Another beautifully crafted Hoffman book. Slow read, only because her writing is so beautiful I want to digest every word. Recounts two actual 1911 historical events: The Triangle Shirt Factory Fire and the Dreamland Coney Island Fire. The characters are complex, the story somewhat eerie, and the entire book a disturbing and compelling read.

r
rebmartin31
Jun 01, 2016

I was looking forward to this book, because some friends of mine had recommended Alice Hoffman to me.

I don't know what it is, or why, but this book just didn't do anything for me.

I'm going to have to try other Alice Hoffman books to further investigate this situation.

BostonPL_LauraB Mar 21, 2016

This was a wonderful historical novel about early 20th century New York, a time that is very fascinating and in a city that I love and has heaps of history. It was written beautifully with vivid imagery, but at times the structure of the novel wasn't my favorite. I'm okay with having a "present-day" narration and an "in the past" narration, but when one is first person and another is third person it was a bit jarring. Additionally, having the "in the past" narration written in italics was hard on the eyes. The last 20 pages were also far too rushed and I really think this novel would have been a hit out of the park if it were longer - 400 pages or a bit more would have done the story justice. Overall, I did enjoy this and it makes me very interested to read something else by her. Possibly The Dovekeepers?

j
june_hope
Feb 04, 2016

The book kept me captivated for the good 2/3 of it. I liked how the history of New York was presented and the story of two lonely souls felt different from other similar stories. The last third was a burden: I invested so much time into the book that I felt obliged to finish it, but it became extremely predictable for me. The original idea was really good and I couldn't wait to find out where the story will go. I was engaged emotionally at first, but at the end the characters became so distant that I didn't care a lot about their fate. It’s a nice read in transit, but I probably will not pick another book written by Ms. Hoffman again.

h
Hippolyta
Aug 04, 2015

For me, this book was an absorbing, magical and wonderous experience. While it responds to some of the author's personal history, it is also incorporates a story about the growth of New York as a city. Most interesting though are Hoffmann's accounts of particular individuals and her dramatisation of the interactions between the various and often antagonistic social mileux of New York at the turn of the twentieth century.

A central theme is individuals' ability to determine how they may become the person (or the creature) they know themselves to be. Although gender, class and ethnicity are scrutinised on this basis, it is most explicit in terms of people's appearance or their 'normality'. The so-called "living wonders" referred to in the book's title relate to the extent to which people may be born with attributes normally associated with other animal species; for instance, the Museum at various times exhibits a Mermaid, a Wolfman and a Butterfly Girl, each representative of the life-supporting elements of water, earth and air.

The commonality between, and respect due to, all forms of life, whether plant, animal or human, is pervasive. The unusual physical appearance of the Museum's exhibits confounds the demarcation between a person and an animal (as does, the 'human' qualities of the protagonist's dog, Mitts). A person's (or an animal's) physical attributes may be exploited by others for financial gain or responded to with empathy and inclusion. How the people in Hoffmann's story relate to animals constitutes an important element of their character.

Primarily, Hoffmann's story is compellingly psychological and follows the personal journeys of a young man and young woman. While both characters are concerned with their psychological need to know where they have come from in order to know who they are, it is the male protagonist's story which is the more engaging as he accepts the challenge of self-redemption.

Concerned with power and our perception and our valuing of each other, I think Hoffmann is denouncing the 'skin-deep' or the physical aspects of human attraction and instead locating our need to love and be loved in our inner, most essential selves. On this basis, rather than being the ultimate illusion, love becomes the ultimate reality; and we are most free to become the person we know ourselves to be.

w
wyenotgo
Aug 03, 2015

What a strange collection of characters, and what a bizarre, over-the-top yarn Ms. Hoffman spins! Way too outrageously romantic for my taste, although it held my attention to the end. While the corruption that prevailed in New York's Tammany Hall era is well known, I wonder if the police and civic authorities were as deeply engaged in both petty and large scale bribery and chicanery as portrayed in the book -- essentially bullies for hire to whoever could pay for their services. If so, it more than rivaled the worst aspects of today's China, Russia or Bangladesh! Along with that, the everyday behavior of ordinary citizens is presented as almost unbelievably brutish, ignorant and shallow, seeking out the crudest and most garish forms of entertainment possible and prepared to instantly attack on the street any individual who appeared strange or different. Setting her protagonists in such a hostile environment helped the author in telling her melodramatic story, but one wonders how accurate her research truly was.

h
Hlsi
Jul 07, 2015

I just plowed through this page turner of a book. It is an easy read but definitely thought provoking. I would recommend it for the curious type of reader. I also liked the historical details that I never knew happened.

brianreynolds Mar 01, 2015

Dare I say Gothic without having a lot of experience with the genre? Perhaps Gothic Comedy, because the romance, in either sense of the word, is pretty thin. Comedy because it moves toward union, even though the protagonists seem pretty well obsessed with other fish to fry for 90% of the book. Still, the structure of alternating POV seems to be sufficient motive and mechanism to effect the desired ending. I think it would be a more enjoyable read if the reader were a 19th century sort of person with strong convictions about Fate and Love at first sight, and a deep appreciation of the Macabre. My first Hoffman, I think. Perhaps I started in the wrong place.

r
readsalot80
Feb 27, 2015

This is another great read by Alice Hoffman. This is Coralie Sardie's coming of age story as she grows up protected by her father who runs the The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Her father makes her learn to swim in the river through out the year. She eventually becomes one of the displays in the museum. She wants more out of life while her father is making her do awful things. She finds the truth about her life in the end and escapes the museum while finding love.

k
kathylou
Feb 12, 2015

It's hard to explain this book. Even though I didn't like some things, too many plots and too many extraordinary events, I found it hard to put the book down.

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Quotes

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n
normalima
Aug 27, 2015

p. 255
Maureen told Coralie: “Love happens in such a way. It walks up to you, and when it does, you need to recognize it for what it is and, perhaps more important, for what it might become.”

n
normalima
Aug 27, 2015

p. 245
“Did the heat of passion have the power to change one’s vision, so that what was false became true, and truth itself was nowhere to be seen?”

n
normalima
Aug 27, 2015

p. 157 Hochman said to Eddie:
“That just goes to show what a man thinks and what he feels are not necessarily one and the same.”

n
normalima
Aug 27, 2015

p. 157 Hochman said to Eddie: “”It is not finding what’s lost, it is understanding what you’ve found.”

n
normalima
Aug 27, 2015

p.115
Maureen said: “Trust me when I say, it’s best for both of us to keep our thoughts to ourselves.”

n
normalima
Aug 27, 2015

p. 105
Coralie said: “I was convinced that God had a hand in everything we did on earth, though we might never understand his ways, …”

n
normalima
Aug 27, 2015

p.103
“Love is odder than anything you might find here,” Maureen instructed.

n
normalima
Aug 27, 2015

p. 103
“Maureen said coldly: “Your father has no regrets.”

n
normalima
Aug 27, 2015

p. 58
Levy said to Eddie:” In our world of shadows, there is no black and white but a thousand different strokes of light. A wedding is a joyous event. There’s no shame in catching those moments of all time.”

n
normalima
Aug 27, 2015

p.57
“It was the eye of the camera that captured the world as it truly was. For this reason photography was not only Eddie’s profession, it was his calling.”

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Summary

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n
normalima
Aug 30, 2015

The author is a good storyteller; she gives us vivid descriptions of places, scenes and characters in this book. The fantasy is disturbing, but similar stories of the book happened in the 1900s. People did not know that to do with relatives with disabilities.
The beginning of the trust between Coralie and Eddie was rushed. The same day they met, she trusted him with many secrets. I did not think it was reasonable according to the tone of the book.
The book inspired me to do research about the devastation and the working conditions for women and children in the 1900s. I liked the way the author ended the book with Coralie’s letter to Maureen. It was very touchy.

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