Skip to main content

Review: The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, by Ellen Bryson

Pages: 331

Original date of publication: 2010

My edition: 2010 (Henry Holt)

Why I decided to read: it was offered on Amazon Vine

How I acquired my copy: same, May 2010

Set in New York City in 1865, The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is set amongst PT Barnum’s Museum of Human Curiosities. The story is narrated by Bartholomew Fortuno, the Museum’s Thin Man, who notices a strange woman entering the Museum late one night. His curiosity leads to an assignment from Barnum, who asks Bartholomew to shadow the mysterious woman.

It’s a good premise, and I enjoyed the setting of the novel: I love reading novels set in historical New York, But the author’s writing style is uneven; sometime’s she’s erudite about the nature of Human Curiosities and their relationship with the rest of the world, but sometimes the writing is clunky (“Abigail something or another,” I said, remember only the poor girl’s first name”). There’s a heavy amount of foreshadowing in this novel, so much so that the author practically told you in advance what was going to happen. There are so many references to how thin Bartholomew is that it got really old really quickly.

In addition, although the book is a quick read, the plot moves at a snail’s pace, leading me to lose interest at several points in the narrative. The author sets the mystery up well, but this book wasn’t all that suspenseful for me once I’d figured out who the mysterious woman was. The book is punctuated by fake notices which are a clever way of telling the reader how much time has passed, but these too became tiresome after a while because they hampered the flow of the story for me.

As I read, I found that I couldn’t quite connect to the characters in the way I wanted to. Bartholomew’s obsession with the strange woman wasn’t all that believable to me. I agree with another reviewer that his relationship with her seemed downright weird; I just didn’t see what drew them together. Unfortunately, this isn't a book I'd recommend.


Heidi said…
I have to admit that by the time I got to the book's 'secret' I didn't really care any more! Great idea, interesting premise, fantastic location & time period, but pacing might have been its downfall. Glad I wasn't the only one who thought so.
I have a copy that was (unsolicited) sent by the publisher. It sits there on my desk and I eye it warily each time I sit down at the computer....I have a phobia of the circus. So anything even remotely involving beareded ladies, little people in costume, elephants or a big tent freaks me out.

You're not helping. (LOL)

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy:, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy:, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…