The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno
Series or Stand Alone: Stand AloneRelease Date: June 2010
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Pages: 400 (352 ARC version)
Author Site: http://www.ellenbryson.com/
My Rating: 3.25/5
Source: Received for review from publisher
Water for Elephants meets Geek Love in this riveting first novel, an enchanting love story set in P. T. Barnum's American Museum in 1865 New York City.
Bartholomew Fortuno, the World's Thinnest Man, believes that his unusual body is a gift. Hired by none other than P. T. Barnum to work at his spectacular American Museum—a modern marvel of macabre displays, breathtaking theatrical performances, and live shows by Barnum's cast of freaks and oddities—Fortuno has reached the pinnacle of his career. But after a decade of constant work, he finds his sense of self, and his contentment within the walls of the museum, flagging. When a carriage pulls up outside the museum in the dead of night, bearing Barnum and a mysterious veiled woman—rumored to be a new performer—Fortuno's curiosity is piqued. And when Barnum asks Fortuno to follow her and report back on her whereabouts, his world is turned upside down. Why is Barnum so obsessed with this woman? Who is she, really? And why has she taken such a hold on the hearts of those around her?
Set in the New York of 1865, a time when carriages rattled down cobblestone streets, raucous bordellos near the docks thrived, and the country was mourning the death of President Lincoln, The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is a moving novel about human appetites and longings. With pitch-perfect prose, Ellen Bryson explores what it means to be profoundly unique—and how the power of love can transcend even the greatest divisions.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF BARTHOLOMEW FORTUNO was a very enjoyable read for me. I haven’t read many historic novels as of yet so it was exciting to find a book set in the past that I had no problem with reading. It’s 1865 in New York right around the time President Lincoln was assassinated. The story takes place in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum that housed some of the world’s most famous oddities and curiosities. Bartholomew Fortuno is the world’s thinnest man and has had a very successful career sharing his gift with the patrons that frequent the museum. But after a mysterious new act arrives Bartholomew’s entire outlook on life changes and he begins to question everything he’s believed in for so long.
I enjoyed the unique characters in the novel. I appreciated the way that Bryson not only portrayed them as oddities but included the beauty of their differences as well. Bartholomew was an interesting main character. Seeing him develop and his attitude change was over the course of the novel was definitely a journey. In the beginning, Bartholomew considers his extreme thinness as a gift. He considers all of his fellow curiosities to possess their own gifts as well. These gifts set them apart from the normal crowd; above them even. I think my favorite character was Matina. Her honesty and beauty shined every time she was in a scene and I suppose me being a little on the bigger side myself I admired her courage and her sense of self.
The atmosphere of the novel was well written and definitely believable. I didn’t feel bogged down by any unnecessary historical facts either which I suppose is what worries me when it concerns books that are written in a past time. The writing was smooth from beginning to an end with a pretty good finish to sum up the story. The ending wasn’t as dramatic as the plot led me to believe but it didn’t disappoint me all that much.
The only issue I had with the novel was the synopsis. I was expecting more of a love story in the novel, that’s basically what the back of the book is promising. However, it’s more a story of obsessions, which isn’t a bad thing just not necessarily what I thought I was getting into. Not only is Bartholomew obsessed with Iell, but his entire “gift” of being thin is based on an obsession as well. I found his obsession with Iell a little confusing. I understand how one can feel totally attracted to something or simply compelled to be around it without really understanding why they feel that way. However, I just couldn’t really connect with Bartholomew’s obsession. Either it wasn’t really explained or developed enough for my brain to get a grip on it. I did appreciate Ellen Bryson’s way of capturing his obsessions though. Obsession is so closely related to addiction and I think Bryson depicted Bartholomew’s actions very well. His obsessions were definitely borderline addictions.
I think many readers who enjoy the time period or subject matter will definitely like this book. If either factor is new to you I still recommend you give it a try.