Sometimes, grabbing a random book from Half-Price because it’s $2 and brightly colored pays off. The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno was strange but magical, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would — especially after reading some not so complimentary reviews on Goodreads.
“Our uniqueness alone is enough to justify our special place in the world. But even more, our destiny insists we use our gifts to show others who they really are or show them what, in an ideal world, they could become. It may shock them at first, but deep down, we open their eyes to greater possibilities.”
Set in the 1860s, the novel is about a man named Bartholomew Fortuno who works for P.T. Barnum in his museum in New York. Rather than being part of a traveling circus, Bartholomew (who is famed for his skeleton-like frame) and his friends (a fat lady, a giantess, a rubber man, etc.) perform at a venue in New York, in which they also live. One day, a mysterious woman comes to work for the circus, and Bartholomew becomes obsessed with her, and in doing so, begins to change.
There are a couple things that really made this book special, in my opinion. First of all, it is meticulously researched and the descriptions of the circus and New York and the people of the 1860s are incredible. Second, as we learn more about Bartholomew, the author does some major exploring of the human psyche that I found enjoyable, if not also a bit uncomfortable. Without giving away too much of the book, there’s a major emphasis on WHY Bartholomew is so incredibly thin. He has lofty ideas about the differences between people who are born “talented” like him, and those who create their oddity. But his ideas change as his changes in the book.
Anyway, it was a good read and very different in a lot of ways. The back cover compared it to Water for Elephants, and I can see that: the history of it, the circus, the troubled romances. A very good read.