“The most astonishing aggregation of human curiosities gathered together in one place! Are these creatures animal or human? Historical or mythical? Mineral, vegetable or fantastical? Discover for yourself here, tonight, for a limited engagement only!” – Rosie Garland, The Palace of Curiosities
I’ve yet to come across a book about circuses and spectacular anomalies that I’ve resisted, and this 2013 historical supernatural fiction novel is no exception. It’s absolutely chock-full of poetic goodness, which doesn’t surprise me since the author, Rosie Garland, has previously been recognized for her poetry. She absolutely takes hold of the story and draws it out for just long enough. And, I mean, come on, the cover is absolutely lovely, if you say you don’t judge books by their covers you’re definitely lying.
The Palace of Curiosities begins by telling the two very separate stories of Eve, an insecure young girl covered in long golden fur-like tresses who is guided by her imaginary friend Donkey-Skin, and of Abel, a man who has lost all of his memory and searches incessantly within his labyrinthian mind in order to find the answers to his troubles. They both have their defining quirks which leads them to be brought together in a sideshow-like attraction, where they, amongst many other curious folks, flaunt their differences. They are both distracted from their true goals by the shiny bright lights and the continuous praise from nightly audiences. Eve comes to a point where she desires this no more, and she realizes that the answer to her prayers is within Abel, and the answer to Abel’s within her. It’s a story of self-discovery and acceptance in the oddest of forms. Our two protagonists have to cut away at the ties that have been holding them down for so long in order to find out who they really are and what they truly stand for, uninfluenced by the trances and fantasies they’ve been living in.
This story was enjoyable, but I found the first half boring, the characters lacked substance and I sometimes found myself wanting to know more about some of the secondary characters rather than the main ones. Eventually, it began to pick up near the middle and I was captivated by it for awhile, until… yep. It became predictable and I knew what was bound to happen. I have to say, though, that the writing style was impressive, but only if you’re into fluffy, adorned writing that has a poetic edge to it. To me, the style helped evoke the time period of Victorian London, and was frequently interrupted with slang and casual dialect which gave the novel a nice balance. In the end, the main characters did face some development, one of my favourite passages was a monologue of Eve’s, where she digs deep and paints an image of who she wants to be:
“I would make plans and dream of the day when I would throw away my curling pins and all feminine fripperies. I would let my beard roughen and wear it like a sailor, tugged into two greasy points, tangled with breadcrumbs and beer. I would swear out loud and not just in the tent of my head; I would have a girl in every port, and remember not one of their names. And when I was tired of mannishness I would be so voluptuous my swains would faint away at the sight of me.”
In a nutshell, this book was a nice little escape from a busy week, but it’s certainly not up there in my favourites. Don’t get me wrong, here, it is pretty difficult for a book to earn a spot on that favourites list, and I am glad I read it just to experience the style, I was just a bit bored sometimes. I think it was the flowery writing style that did it, sometimes it acted as a blindfold so I couldn’t see that the story’s spine was weak. If you like weird, circus-y books as much as I do, this may be worth the read. I found the author herself to be very interesting as well, she sings in a Goth band and is a cabaret singer, in addition to being a poet/writer. Finally, I must warn you that the book was a bit raunchy at times as well as explicit. It certainly doesn’t take away from the content, in fact it adds to it, but I just wanted to advise you all of that.
Thank you so very much for taking time to read this review, and I hope that you’ve learned something that you wanted to know. Happy reading!