Audiobook Review: THE MUSEUM OF EXTRAORDINARY THINGS by Alice Hoffman

Format: Audio; 12 hrs, 18 mins
Narrators: Judith Light, Grace Gummer, Zach Appelman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Release Date: February 18, 2014
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★★★

Mesmerizing and illuminating, Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things is the story of an electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century.

Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.

The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father’s Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as a tailor’s apprentice. When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie.

With its colorful crowds of bootleggers, heiresses, thugs, and idealists, New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is Alice Hoffman at her most spellbinding.

THE MUSEUM OF EXTRAORDINARY THINGS is an epic tale of love, loss, and the astounding city of New York in the early 20th century. The two main protagonists are Coralie, a girl with a curious deformity who becomes an attraction at her father’s museum of oddities, and Eddie, a photographer who’s abandoned his Jewish Orthodox faith and makes a living documenting the wonders and tragedies of the city. Eventually their paths cross when they become wrapped up in the mystery surrounding a missing garment worker.

Like all of Ms. Hoffman’s books I’ve read, the prose is gorgeous and mesmerizing, and her vivid descriptions make the time, place, and characters very real. The author includes her trademark magical realism and symbolism – fire, ice, water, birds, trees, the color red – which is always a delight to read. The actual historical events that were woven into the story were eye-opening to say the least. The pacing was a bit slow in spots and some scenes tended to go on too long for my taste. Still, I was intrigued by the mystery and was impatiently waiting to see how Eddie and Coralie would connect.

I listened to the audiobook which was performed by Judith Light (narrator), Grace Gummer (Coralie), and Zach Appelman (Eddie). All three performances were good, though their readings lacked a lot of emotion. I’m glad that the first person POVs of Coralie and Eddie where read by different narrators. It worked well for this story.

Rating: 4 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.