Category Archives: Fiction

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

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“From the time I began my career at the museum, my father told me I was a wonder of the world. Yet when I held up my hand mirror to study my face, it did not seem wondrous to me. My features- gray eyes, black eyebrows, high cheekbones, pale complexion- added up to a plain person, a simple individual no one would look at twice. I considered myself to be nothing special, a dull creature who could not compare to those God had made to be unique in all the world, for the living wonders my father employed were as marvelous as they were strange.”

There is something about the circus that displays the strange and unbelievable that grabs a person’s imagination. As a child it’s the wonder that such things exist and as an adult it’s a chuckle at the creativity behind the display and maybe even a slight appreciation for a well created trick for the eye. I had high expectations for Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things and while it may not have been what I expected, it was still a very enjoyable read nonetheless.

Coralie has grown up with people that the rest of society deems “freaks” but to her they are friends, family and individuals with beautiful thoughts and intentions no matter how different the shells they live in may be. Her father employs these people at his museum where he displays the strange and frightening, a mad but ingenious scientist who is always dreaming up the next oddity he can create. He even places his daughter in a tank, her webbed fingers and toes making her a mermaid worth displaying. Eddie has run from his only remaining family member, forsaken his Jewish community and lost hold of who he is, all the decisions he made in his youth haunt him every day in one manner or another. But Eddie has a gift and is able to find things and people lost to the whirlwind of life, his only saving grace as far as he is concerned. Random events will bring these two old souls together amidst the noise and metropolis of a blooming New York City and redefine what is strange and what is fate.

Hoffman is one of those authors that I truly respect and look forward to new releases from. She has a fantastic writing style and very few people can match her when it comes to telling a story with finesse. And from the books I have read by Hoffman, she often chooses to tell stories that are intriguing and by taking an angle that might not be expected by her readers.

One of the highlights of reading Hoffman is the intricacy of her characters and The Museum of Extraordinary Things does not disappoint on this front. Coralie is the strong, intelligent lead female character that I wish I would see more often in novels, a woman under the thumb of a controlling father and who lives with a visible peculiarity but who grows to know the value of her own self-worth. Maureen, the housekeeper and mother figure for Coralie and who also has a disfigurement, is a second admirable female character that provides guidance and acceptance. Eddie has countless layers of development; the rejection of his father and religion, his youth as a thug, a return to the beauty of nature, and a desire to find the perfect moment from behind the lens of his camera. Perhaps the most surprising ideology weaved into the story by Hoffman is that the museum’s human displays, the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, all of them, are still humans and seek the same things that their more perfect counterparts do. All of these characters exist against the background of Coney Island in a time when the entire world was changing and people struggled to find their place in it, no matter their outward appearance.

While a small part of me would have loved to see a bit more about the different acts and people of the circus-like museum, The Museum of Extraordinary Things is still a wonderful story of life, love, hope and urges the reader to revaluate their definition of extraordinary. For those who enjoy Hoffman and her literary passion for telling a consuming story, this is a must read.

Devon – a1000booklife

Other books by Hoffman: The Ice Queen (2006), Green Angel (2010), The Dovekeepers (2011), The Red Garden (2011), Green Heart (2012) and many others

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The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

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“Here’s another definition of wandering: emotions so great they require superstition to explain them. This is the core observation of my field of study, after all. Fear- of death, of loss, of being left behind- is the genesis of belief in the supernatural. For someone like me to suddenly find himself entertaining the myths of primitives can only be seen as symptomatic of a psychotic break of some kind. I know this to be as verifiable as the street numbers I walk past, as the time on my watch. I am proposing that a demon took my daughter from me. Just stop and say that out loud a few times. Just hear it. It is the sort of theory that rightly justifies locking someone in Bellevue for long term observations.

So I move on. Surrounded by blue-green people on blue-green blocks.

And feel almost nothing.”

Lately for some reason the theme of demons has become prominent in my entertainment choices, first with seeing the movie The Conjuring and now with reading The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper. Dan Brown’s Inferno, which I am currently reading as well, is also centered around a prominent piece of literature and several pieces of artwork based on a creative interpretation of Hell and Purgatory. I have always found it a fascinating subject, maybe because it such a feared, almost taboo topic in some regards. And yet it also speaks of human beliefs that go back for generations and the historian in me gets giddy at the idea of how current literature makes use of these themes.

David Ullman is a world-renowned expert on demonic literature, specifically Milton’s Paradise Lost and while he may not refer to himself as one, he is a demonologist of sorts. While his academic career may be a success, his personal life is dissolving before his eyes and the only source of comfort comes from his daughter Tess and Elaine O’Brien, an academic college who is also his best friend. When a mysterious woman arrives at his office and extends a vague invitation from an unnamed employer, Ullman initially refuses but the intrigue soon gets the better of him and he, along with his daughter Tess, heads off to Venice, Italy. While there he witnesses a horrific event of unbelievable proportions, which ultimately leads to the loss of his daughter. The journey to reclaim her will lead Ullman to face demons of all kinds, some personal, some beyond the realm of belief. Where he once refused the plausible reality of demons, Ullman gradually comes to understand that their presence may have been a constant throughout his entire life and now, along with his academic knowledge, cumulates with unknown forces choosing him for a task of demonic intent.

While The Demonologist is categorized as fiction, it could easily belong in the horror section; some of the episodes of demonic activity that Ullman experiences are quite disturbing. The storyline is also a nonstop adrenaline rush with Ullman facing danger after danger, some mortal but most immortal, and numerous times when I set the book aside for the night, images conjured from the demonic encounters written by Pyper made sleep a little harder to come by. There’s no denying that Pyper was able to touch on an underlying fear in all of us; the unknown. Between that and the elegant style of prose used by Pyper, which pulls the reader through the more disturbing content, it is certainly a hard book to put down.

The one thing that drew me to this novel, besides the obvious fascination with the demonic possibilities, was the fact that Pyper writes David Ullman as an academic professor and so I was looking forward to learning some historical goodness about the subject, very much like what Dan Brown does with Robert Langdon. However, while there are some in depth discussions regarding Paradise Lost any kind of real delving into the lore of demonology fails to take place.  The struggle is very much centered around Ullman’s memories and mentality, which makes for an interesting read in and of itself but I would have personally enjoyed a little more background knowledge concerning demons and their presence in the written record and experience.

The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper is a fascinating novel that holds its own with multiple scares and moral dilemmas. It certainly sits on the darker side of fiction but Pyper masters the combination of using a striking writing style and unnerving demonic intervention to create a thrilling piece of fiction that draws you deeper and deeper into a man’s world that is falling apart when evil forces tear away the things he loves most. Unlike so many modern novels however it’s not terrorists or crime that causes this loss, but something far more old and sinister. It was a great, if somewhat disturbing, read that I highly recommend for anyone with similar curiosities about the unknown.

Devon – a1000booklife

Other books by Andrew Pyper: Lost Girls (1999), The Trade Mission (2002), The Wildfire Season (2005), The Killing Circle (2008) and The Guardians (2011)

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