Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Church of Marvels

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
Published by Two Roads
4th June 2015
Hardback Edition

New York, 1895. It's late on a warm city night when Sylvan Threadgill, a young night soiler who cleans out the privies behind the tenement houses, pulls a terrible secret out from the filthy hollows: an abandoned newborn baby. An orphan himself, Sylvan was raised by a kindly Italian family and can't bring himself to leave the baby in the slop. He tucks her into his chest, resolving to find out where she belongs.

Odile Church is the girl-on-the-wheel, a second-fiddle act in a show that has long since lost its magic. Odile and her sister Belle were raised in the curtained halls of their mother's spectacular Coney Island sideshow: The Church of Marvels. Belle was always the star-the sword swallower-light, nimble, a true human marvel. But now the sideshow has burnt to the ground, their mother dead in the ashes, and Belle has escaped to the city.

Alphie wakes up groggy and confused in Blackwell's Lunatic Asylum. The last thing she remembers is a dark stain on the floor, her mother-in-law screaming. She had once walked the streets as an escort and a penny-Rembrandt, cleaning up men after their drunken brawls. Now she is married; a lady in a reputable home. She is sure that her imprisonment is a ruse by her husband's vile mother. But then a young woman is committed alongside her, and when she coughs up a pair of scissors from the depths of her agile throat, Alphie knows she harbors a dangerous secret that will alter the course of both of their lives...

On a single night, these strangers' lives will become irrevocably entwined, as secrets come to light and outsiders struggle for acceptance. From the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded streets of the Lower East Side, a spectacular sideshow to a desolate asylum, Leslie Parry makes turn-of-the-century New York feel alive, vivid, and magical in this luminous debut. In prose as magnetic and lucid as it is detailed, she offers a richly atmospheric vision of the past marked by astonishing feats of narrative that will leave you breathless.

This is a circus themed novel set in America at the end of the nineteenth century and the debut novel of Leslie Parry.  I have to admit though, for me it conjured up Victorian England, and I had a hard time remembering that the book was meant to actually have been set in New York.  It follows a whole host of eccentric characters - sisters Odile and Belle, kindly Sylvan who we are introduced to at the start of the book, and Alphie who has no idea how she has ended up in a lunatic asylum.

There are many twists and turns in this book, and it does bounce from character to character.  At times I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue reading this as it felt a little too disjointed at the beginning but as I had heard good reviews about it I did continue, and actually I'm glad that I did as by it's conclusion I felt that the separate tales had been woven well together and it had been an overall enjoyable experience. 

Church of Marvels is a visual novel, sort of similar in parts to writing by Sarah Walters in my opinion, and I could certainly see it appearing on television screens.

 Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

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