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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.

Comments

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)

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2015 Reading

January
1. The Vanishing Witch, by Karen Maitland
2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
3. Texts From Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg
4. Brighton Rock, by Graham Green
5. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey
6. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
8. A Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
9. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
10. Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote
11. Maggie-Now, by Betty Smith

February
1. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, by Cynthia Lee
4. Music For Chameleons, by Truman Capote
5. Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious
6. Unrequited, by Lisa Phillips
7. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
8. A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather

March
1. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
2. Love With a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Miss Buncle's Book, by DE Stevenson
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garc…