Book 7 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Jan. 5 - Jan. 21
The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson
Summary (via the book jacket)
Bartholomew Fortuno, the World's Thinnest Man, believes that his unusual body is a gift. Hired by none other than P.T. Barnum to work at his spectacular American Museum - a modern marvel of macabre displays and live performances by Barnum's cast of freaks and oddities - Fortuno has reached the pinnacle of his career. But after a decade of solid performance, he finds his contentment flagging. When a carriage pulls up outside the museum in the dead of night, bearing Barnum and a mysterious veiled woman, rumored to be a new performer, Fortuno's curiosity is piqued. And when Barnum asks Fortuno to follow her and report on her whereabouts, his world is turned upside-down. Why is Barnum so obsessed with this woman? Who is she, really? And why has she taken such a hold on the hearts around her?
As Fortuno searches for the truth, the other performers face trials of their own: Small fires keep erupting in the halls of the museum, and while alert residents quickly dowse them with water, an arsonist clearly lives among them. As the fires grow in size and number, it seems to be only a matter of time before their home will burn down, and so the hunt for the fire-setter is on.
Set in mid-nineteenth Manhattan, a time when carriages rattled down cobblestone streets, raucous bordellos thrived, and the country was mourning the death of President Lincoln, The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is a moving novel about human appetites and longings. With pitch-perfect prose, Ellen Bryson explores what it means to be profoundly unique - and the power of love to transcend even the greatest divisions.
I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I saw Goodreads compare this to Geek Love and Water for Elephants...those are two very different books (apart from the circus atmosphere) and a book that compares to both could be very strange. I tend not to compare books to each other but after reading it, I would say the comparison to Geek Love is stronger.
I was intrigued but uneasy as I read this; I didn't dislike it but am not sure I can unequivocally say I liked it either. I wasn't bored because I liked Fortuno as the narrator but I did make the note "it's page 99 and not much has happened yet" as I was reading. When the interactions between the characters picked up I found Fortuno's decline into madness very interesting.
I like how the author took a different approach than just listing the time and place at the beginning of the chapter and was able to portray the time period in a subtle way, by mentioning the mourning flag for Lincoln when describing the scenery on the first page.
A jumbled review to match my jumbled feelings for the book.
A Few Quotes from the Book
"In fact, whenever possible, I avoided leaving Barnum's Museum at all. A man like me had no business in the wider world. Let the outside world come to me and pay to do it."
"Chance, together with a bit of luck, soon sent me along my inevitable way."
" 'I believe you have a gift,' she said.
'You've been put in this world for something special. I have always known this, my baby. But if you want to fulfill your destiny and be who you are meant to be, you must learn to control your impulses. Control, Bartholomew, control.' "