21 July 2010

Book Review: Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno

Title: The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno
Author:  Ellen Bryson
Publisher: Henry Holt
Release Date: 22 June 2010
Date Finished: 19 July 2010

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Reading Resolutions, Hogwarts Reading Challenge,

The Short and Sweet of It
P.T. Barnum's Living Curiosities inhabit their own world, defined by the limits of the American Museum where they live. Bartholomew Fortuno, toted as the Living Skeleton or the World's Thinnest Man, finds his world beginning to change when a new curiosity joins the show.  While the premise really grabbed me, the book ended up falling a bit flat.

A Bit of a Ramble
The world of the circus, traveling show, freak show, etc. fascinates me. I find appealing the life of the nomad, removed from "normal" society in lifestyle and possibly appearance, so the premise of this book really caught my eye. Bryson attempts to reconstruct the world of the Living Curiosities in Barnum's museum circa 1865.  Within this world, Bartholomew contentedly displays his thinness, for him a gift he has been given to awaken self-revelation in those who view him. One night, he sees a veiled woman, a new act, and he becomes obsessed with her.

The rest of the book revolves around his obsession: how it affects his current friendships, his job, his self-awareness, etc.  While I found the setting and the characters fascinating, the plot didn't quite cut it for me. I didn't fully believe the obsession, err..I'm sorry, the love story, and I thought the inclusion of Bartholomew's history with his mother undeveloped. Most of the "mystery" elements were easy enough to guess, and the lack of awareness on the part of Bartholomew was frustrating.

Overall I wanted more time with the eccentric characters and more...well more. It is so strange how sometimes a book only 100 pages can have such action and such depth, and then a chunkster can feel superficial; unfortunately that is how I felt with this book.  For 330+ pages, not a lot happens and I never felt like I really got to know any of the characters. And man oh lordy did I want to.

On a side note, I highly urge you to go explore the Lost Museum, a website dedicated to Barnum's American Museum. The photo to the right is of Isaac Sprague, the thin man who inspired Bartholomew.

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  1. My review is going up next Wednesday. I did buy the obsession, in that it essentially ruins Bartholomew towards the end... but I felt the ending was a bit slapdash.

  2. I believe I might fall in your camp. I like the premise. I find people who travel in such a circus atmosphere are fascinating personalities. Why on earth would they want to place themselves in a situation where they are like animals in a cage? But I will trust you that something here falls short.

  3. This is an interesting and unusual premise. It's a shame parts of it weren't fully developed.

  4. I can't remember where else I've seen this on the blogs, but I remember the opinion being similar to yours. I'm not sure this is going to work for me, though it sounds intersting!

  5. Oh my gosh that's crazy! (the picture) I have this on my TBR but have heard so so things about it. =/

  6. Nicely reviewed! I'd heard "if you like 'Water for Elephants', you'll love this" about this novel. Other than the circus in common, it doesn't sound like they remotely resemble each other in terms of good story or good writing.

    Sounds like Bryson loved the idea of setting a story around the circus more than she was concerned with actually creating a good story.


  7. Clare - I get how obsession ruins a person; I guess I just didn't understand why the obsession started. I can't wait to read your review!

    Sandy - "Freaks" are definitely fascinating. On one hand, they are being spectacalized (my own word) but on the other hand, they are really the ones with power in that situation. Like strippers.

    Stephanie - I agree. Then again, maybe my expectations were too high!

    Amanda - It's such a great premise; it just falls a bit short.

    Jenny - I freaked when I saw that; what I was imagining was nowhere near that skinny!

    Greg - That's what I heard too, but I loved Water for Elephants, and I don't think they resemble each other at all. The funny thing is there isn't even a carnival..it's a museum in NYC.

  8. I like the topic - I love exploring all things different from my own world..... I am off to visit the Lost Museum, thanks for the ticket... I mean, errrr... link! :D

  9. I don't think this book ... or the web site ... is for me. It kind of freaks me out and makes me sad.

  10. Sheila - I hope you enjoy it; I found the site fascinating.

    Jenners - Then definitely not!

  11. Sorry to hear not much happens :\ It sounds like it had so much potential.

  12. I hate it when a book doesn't live up to its premise! lol

  13. Ana and Eva - It's a bit frustrating when you are expecting something to be so tremendous and it falls short.

  14. This sounds interesting, but I do like some action in my books even when it has great characters.

  15. I didn't have any expectations when I read this, so I was enjoyed it as a fun read. I was too busy wrapped up in the world and in love with Barthy to notice much else.

    I have a review here:

  16. Kathy - I agree. Characters are why I read books, but I still need something substantive to be happening.

    Bethany - I think I had too many expectations because I loved Water for Elephants so much.


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