Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
This book arrived at my door and from the moment I saw its beautiful cover, I had a feeling I was in for a treat. Lately, books have been taking me forever to read, regardless of how great they are. Church of Marvels was demolished in two days (this was achieved with sleep deprivation and some casual anti-social attitudes towards colleagues at lunchtime, sorry). It doesn’t take a magician to work out whether I enjoyed this… but I reviewed it anyway so read on.
Summary: This marvellous story revolves around 3 narrators: a twin from a spectacular freak show on a search to find her sister, a wife who has ended up in an asylum with little recollection of how she got there, and an orphan man who cleans up the city at night, and discovers a thread which ties them all together. Set in the dark, and yet enchanting, late 19th Century New York, these characters lives become intertwined during one gripping night that unravels during the novel.
My Thoughts: I haven’t been this engaged with a book for a long time, and I forgot that feeling of truly losing yourself into a whole other world and time, a setting full of dark secrets, unique characters and twisted back stories. This novel was expertly woven together in a way that every chapter left me wanting more, each character’s snippet of their story was never quite enough. The twists and surprises were the perfect kind, subtly implied and presented, but it wasn’t until the reveal where all of the random threads suddenly made sense. This was a world like nothing I had read about before, dark and yet spectacular, dirty and yet magical. Coney island was the perfect backdrop for these characters to come together, and Leslie Parry’s writing was the perfect tool to do so, detailed enough to make each description irresistibly real but not too much so to detract from the rapidly moving story.
We can be a weary, cynical lot – we grow old and see only what suits us, and what is marvelous can often pass us by. A kitchen knife. A bulb of glass. A human body. That something so common should be so surprising – why, we forget it. We take it for granted. We assume that our sight is reliable, that our deeds are straightforward, that our words have one meaning. But life is uncommon and strange; it is full of intricacies and odd, confounding turns.
What I liked: I lose any semblance of eloquence when trying to write a review (I’m not sure I ever had any) but I loved so much about this book. The enchanting and at times disturbing setting, the courageous set of carnival characters and their world of opium dens, hidden identities, mysteries and revelations. Attention to detail, even for seemingly minor characters, made this story lush and complex. The pacing of this story and its surprises were also done really well, enough was given away to make me feel like I was gradually working out what was happening; until the secrets were revealed and then I realised I really had no idea of how deeply intwined the story was. I also really loved the physical appearance of this book…which seems very shallow (okay, it is very shallow) but it just made the whole experience something special.
What I didn’t like: This is tricky..the only thing that was a negative for me (and it’s a bit of a stretch) was that for the first bit of the book I was a bit slow at working out who each character was and understanding their story in relation to everything else. I have heard opinions from others who didn’t love this book as much as me, and I think it was because it has the potential to become confusing due to the interwoven stories and the use of some creative language that at times can feel a little inaccessible. Personally I found the confusing intricacies and the imaginative language of this novel part of its charm, but I guess for some, this made it hard work.
Worth a read: Yes. So much yes. Give Church of Marvels some of your attention and you will be rewarded with an evocative story that entertains just like a spectacular carnival.
Rating: 4.5 stars
*This book was provided to me to read, but as always this space is for my opinions, as un-organised and confusing as they can be. All thoughts and words are my own.