Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Peek Inside P.T. Barnum's World

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson is a novel about a man who works for P.T. Barnum at his museum in New York City in 1865.  Barthy is the thin man in the show; he weighs 65 pounds and is 6 feet tall.  His meals consist of eating a very small amount of green beans with mustard.  He takes great pride in his rib cage sticking out and works to have customers faint when they see his show.

Barthy's close friend Matina is the fat woman; Ally is the  strong man, who has feelings for Matina that Barthy doesn't want to acknowledge.  Barthy sees a secret visitor arrive with Barnum late one night, and his determination sets in motion his transformation.

The secret visitor is Iell, a beautiful red head who has a mysterious relationship with Barnum.  She's the bearded lady, and Barthy finds himself becoming entwined in her world with Barnum, trying to help Iell and keep his job at the same time.  Just what secrets does she have?  Can Barthy keep his feelings to himself, or will he tell Iell about his love for her?

Barthy is a very interesting character.  His transformation occurs throughout the book, as he realizes he's a product of his mother's twisted actions during his childhood, and that he is free to go "outside" the museum to live a normal life.  It's the best part of the book--seeing Barthy awaken to his potential as more than just the thin man at the museum.

P.T. Barnum's museum in 1865 New York City is an amazing character in this novel.  The author does a great job creating an atmosphere full of quirky characters, dark corners, and secretive meetings.  And Barnum himself is a man that uses all his smarts to get his way, and his showmanship to keep the crowds coming in to the museum.

I liked this novel.  Up until the end, you just don't know what's going to happen to Barthy--will he stay or go?  Can he repair his relationship with Matina?  Does he find happiness with Iell?  If you're looking for a historical novel that is chock full of the smells, sights, and sounds of 1865 New York City, try this one.  It was an enjoyable read.

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