Book Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things

coverThe Museum of Extraordinary Things is the story of an electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls. 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 named Eddie Cohen taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River. 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.

Ashley | I (foolishly) expected The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman to be more of a paranormal fantasy story about weird and eccentric beings, something similar to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but from the first page it was clear that this was nothing of the sort. In fact, this was much more a love story than it was a monster story. A beautifully dark love story.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t monsters. In fact, before the lovers even meet, we’re introduced to a series of monsters. Coralie’s father, for instance, was a terrible man. (“My father didn’t approve of women authors, and he most assuredly would not have approved of Miss Brontë” Blasphemy!) Some of the things he did without a second thought were horrifying. He was more of a monster than the actual monsters he collected for his museum and the way he exploited Coralie was deeply disturbing.

But even in the most deprived lives, there are savours and for Coralie, she found salvation in the Hudson River, their housekeeper Maureen and most of all, in her young and blossoming love with Eddie.

As I said, this is a beautifully dark love story, one that began to develop after a brief glimpse into the other’s life. That’s all you get in the first half of the book, Coralie and Eddie cross paths ever so briefly, but an intense bond is formed in those brief moments and though they don’t set sight on each other for some time after, their souls are intertwined. The mere thought of Eddie, the hope that Coralie’s love for him gives her is what love stories are all about.

Taking cues from history and focusing on two huge fires in New York, The Museum of Extraordinary Things deals with some hot and heavy tones, but somehow manages to remain somewhat innocent and hopeful. And really that’s the beauty of it, a magical realism that sweeps you into a dreamland, a dark reality that doesn’t quite seem real.