Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Alice's Review: The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno: A NovelSummary: Inspired by a vintage circus photograph, Bryson's first novel tells the fictional story of the unusual relationship between two human curiosities from P.T. Barnum's American Museum. Bartholomew Fortuno, the world's thinnest man, is asked by Barnum to keep an eye on his latest acquisition—Iell Adams, the bearded woman, who is kept in seclusion until the impresario can introduce her to the world. Fascinated by her and desiring a transformative experience, Bartholomew falls hopelessly in love with Iell, much to the surprise of his fellow Curiosities. Bartholomew also gets caught in the middle of a war between Barnum and his jealous wife for control of Iell's future. The story culminates at Barnum's birthday party, where Bartholomew is shocked to discover Iell's big secret. Though thin on plot, this work sympathetically conjures up the backstage world of Barnum's museum and the pecking order of his Curiosities, and magically transports the reader back in time to Gilded Age New York. Fans of Water for Elephants are sure to want to enter this wondrous midway attraction of a novel. ~ From Publishers Weekly

Review: I was excited to read this book because it was compared to Water for Elephants. Truth be told, I can’t really understand the comparison other than an unusual cast of characters.

This story takes place in New York City, circa 1865 at the American Museum. (I love the reference to farmland where Central Park now stands. Pretty groovy. Wish I could have been there.) The main character is Bartholomew Fortuno, the Thin Man at Barnum’s museum. He believes his thinness is a gift and he lives to share this gift with others. He lives in the relative comfort of the museum, away from the watchful stares of “average” folks who judge him for his uniqueness. He appears to be perfectly content and happy with his life. I think the opening scene tells a different story. He’s sitting at his window looking out at the world as if the world around him was a fishbowl and he was looking in. He distanced himself from, and well frankly thought he was too good for it. He has friends, especially Matina the Fat Lady. I adored Matina, she’s fabulous, classy. They got along so well because “Barthy” felt as entitled as she did. The mystery revolves around the arrival of the newest act, Iell. Almost everyone is intrigued by her, but none as much as Bartholomew and I have to admit me too.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it spoke of outsiders, people who barely fit in among themselves, let alone outside of the comfort and protection of the museum. These are people who either knew no other life or were too afraid to try something different. Whose fear paralyzed them into living a life that was awe inspiring to some and disgusted by others. People who were laughed at and made fun of for just being. Not all Curiosities thought it was curse, Bartholomew sure didn’t. He saw it as a blessing, a uniqueness that no one else had. On a whole I think the Curiosities did the best with what was handed to them. They may have played the cards they were dealt, but make no mistake, some thought it just wasn’t enough.

I thought the author did a great job of giving the characters of Bartholomew, Matina, Alley and Iell depth and believability. It was a real page turned for me. From the beginning, I was rooting for Bartholomew and Matina for very different reasons. I hoped Bartholomew would push himself out of this seemingly perfect world he created for himself and Matina well, because she’s the big girl. What can I say? I have a soft spot for big girls. It was especially interesting for me to see Bartholomew and Alley evolve and mature. Alley wasn’t who I thought he was at all. And Iell the intriguing one? Well once the mystery was out I saw her for exactly who she was, and my opinion of her changed dramatically. Still, I would love to sit down for a cup of tea with her so I can ask her why.

My favorite part of the book was a quote by Matina. She says, “I simply want to remind him that we succeed by being brave, not by letting our problems overwhelm us.” I think she sums it up nicely. This book was about bravery, about taking a chance on the unknown. It was about letting go of that fear and going for what you want in earnest no matter what.

I loved the time I spent with these Curiosities and I look forward to whom Ms. Bryson introduces us to next.

Final Take: 4/5

Julie's Review: The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno



Mandy (The Well-Read Wife) August 6, 2010 at 12:55 AM  

I will read this book just based on the setting alone. It sounds really good!

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