Alice Hoffman always seems to bring history life, and her newest book, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, is no exception. The novel takes place on Coney Island in 1911. Coralie Sardie is the daughter of The Professor, a former magician, and now the proprietor of a Museum showcasing mysterious objects and human oddities like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a 100 year-old tortoise. Born with webbed fingers, Coralie appears in her father’s show as a Mermaid, swimming around a large tank to the delight of everyone who sees her.While Coralie’s life is full of wonderful curiosities, living with her threatening and disagreeable father is often lonely and cheerless.
On the other side of New York lives a young photographer named Eddie Cohen. A Russian immigrant, Eddie has since distanced himself from the Orthodox Jewish community he grew up in. Tragedy strikes in his old neighbourhood, however, when a local factory catches fire. Nearby at the time, Eddie finds himself taking photographs as the tragedy unfolds before him. When a Jewish girl mysteriously vanishes in the wake of the fire, Eddie attempts to discover the truth behind her disappearance. As fate would have it, the mystery surrounding the fire eventually brings both Coralie and Eddie together, resulting in romance.
One of the things I enjoyed most about The Museum of Extraordinary Things were the characters. My heart wept for poor Coralie, as she was forced by her father to do so many terrible things against her will. Getting to see Coralie transform from a meek and submissive girl to someone with confidence and determination was fanastic. I was equally fascinated by Eddie, whose intelligence and grit was admirable. In fact, Eddie’s chapters in the book were among my favourite parts. Despite his resolve to leave his past behind him, I loved getting to see how Eddie’s eyes were opened regarding his relationship with his own father.
Unfortunately, despite loving both Coralie and Eddie, the one thing I just couldn’t stand was their relationship together. I always enjoy a good romance, but the insta-love between them just seemed too contrived. I would have rather preferred it if their feelings had developed over the course of a few chapters, rather than instantly. Not only did the romance between Coralie and Eddie feel rushed, but also the last few chapters of the book. For a novel that had hints of darkness throughout it, I was surprised by how quickly all of the major obstacles in the story were resolved.
Despite my misgivings about the romance of the story, The Museum of Extraordinary Things was a beautifully written book that Hoffman fans will truly enjoy! The historical backdrop and fascinating cast of characters made for a truly delightful read. As always, I’m excited to see what this beloved author comes up with next!