Book Review: The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno
By: Ellen Bryson
Published By: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: June 2010
Page Count: 331
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction
This caught my eye as the blurb said that fans of Water for Elephants would enjoy it. I'd say that is taking things a little far though. True, it is about a museum of curiosities in the 1860s, so it's a little like the traveling menagerie of Water for Elephants , but the similarities stop there. The characters are flatter, the museum is nothing like as colourful, and I didn't learn that much about life in those times from the writing as I would have liked. The writing was ok, but not magical.
The story is of Bartholomew Fortuno, billed as the world's thinnest man; a skeleton man. He lives a sheltered life under the illusion that he is able to enlighten the masses about the truths of the world when they come to see him 'perform'. In reality, there is an interesting examination of his descent into anorexia, but it is far too spaced out through the book. The man certainly has issues with food, and by the end he realizes why while under the influence of opium. It was good to see him recovering, but I also found the examination of why he would suddenly change from eating nothing to binge eating bizarrely lacking.
When a new curiosity joins the museum, and Bartholomew finds himself obsessed by discovering more about the mysterious Iell, a bearded lady. He takes great risks to see her, and the only reason given for that is that she is just SUCH a true prodigy (curiosity) that he feels drawn to her. For me, there was something missing to make that explanation more acceptable. Iell is an interesting character, and there is a true surprise at the end about her, but I think that Bartholomew's obsession with her isn't developed in a believable manner.
I found this book mildly engaging, but for a large portion, a bit of a chore. Too much banal day to day detail. The last 100 pages were a lot better but you really need to chug through to reach them. I look for a little more pace from my books, so I found The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno wanting.
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.