The Swan Gondola
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The Swan Gondola

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  459 ratings  ·  124 reviews
A lush and thrilling romantic fable about two lovers set against the scandalous burlesques, midnight séances, and aerial ballets of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair.

On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn’t quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even...more
Hardcover, 458 pages
Published February 6th 2014 by Riverhead Hardcover
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The Swan Gondola is an interesting story that left me confused as to how I feel about it all. I keep moving between 3 and 4 stars.

Ferret Skerritt one day lands on top of the house of two elderly sisters living in the middle of nowhere, covering the house with the hot air balloon he was flying in. Nobody knows where he came from or what his story is and he’s not inclined to open up about it initially. He begins composing letters to his lost love and finally tells his story to the sisters. Soon we...more
Love ripens everyday, near and far, in a variety of ways. Sometimes, it can feel bigger than life and becomes one’s whole being. Take such a love story; add in the 1989 Omaha World’s Fair, a little mysticism, and you have Timothy Schaffert’s “The Swan Gondola”.

The bare bones of “The Swan Gondola”, which follows the relationship of Bartholomew “Ferret” Skerritt and his love for Cecily; could be simply described as a plain, romantic tale. However, the novel is anything but simple and ordinary. Tol...more
I really liked the tone of this book. Schaffert's fair is beautiful and surprising and his tone is often funny and apt. As a love story, it deserves 5 stars; as a ghost story it wasn't so fabulous.

The beginning reminded me of Morgenstern's The Night Circus; the descriptions of the fair and the way that Schaffert highlights the underground world that is made up of all the "carnies" is great. His character development and descriptions are lovely and the book is quite compelling. Frequently he uses...more
Chris Blocker
I have a feeling many people are going to be talking about this novel in 2014, though it might be bigger in another year or two, when some studio picks it up and adapts it for film. I could be wrong, but there’s a certain mix here that I believe many will eat up. The novel has a wonderful atmosphere about it, and the love story and tension—it’s all very attention-grabbing. The Swan Gondola is unique in many ways, yet it is extremely reminiscent of other novel’s I’ve read.

The most obvious initial...more
i really liked schaffert's geron-rural novel "little coffins" The Coffins of Little Hope he has a real knack for portraying "old folks" as real folks, with their wisdom (or long-perfected stupidity, as the case may be) sex drives, health matters, intellectualism, the fuck-it factor (no need to worry too much about scolding sinners or righting wrongs right? gonna kick it pretty soon anyway)
so his new "swan" novel is a much bigger enterprise but he mines his same strengths: rural ways, old folks,...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I don't quite know how to review this book. I didn't like it, but found some really interesting bits in it. Sort of The Wizard of Oz meets the underbelly of the Omaha World Fair which isn't populated by cute munchkins, but carney's, charlatan's, and pick pockets. Ferret and Cecily have a sublime love affair but all the characters in the novel are weird and odd. This is a highly unusual novel complete with the Emerald City, Dorothy, cyclones and a wicked witch; not for everyone, not for me, but i...more
Lydia Presley
It's not often that I pick up a book that ends up completely surprising me by the time the end comes around. The Swan Gondola did exactly that. It surprised me in a few ways. First, it referenced one of my favorite childhood stories in a subtle, tasteful, and...really, quite perfect way. Second, it brought to mind one of my favorite (and the newest work) books of Neil Gaiman. Schaffert beautifully mixes history, intrigue, romance, love, and a bit of magic in a way that took me back to my childho...more
Absolutely beautiful. An enchanting, gorgeous read that will make you fall in love and break your heart at the same time. The writing is a masterpiece full of whimsical images and quirky phrases. Definitely a must read for fans of romance, love, and for people who love carnivals, circuses, or fairs. The unique style will draw you in, and the characters will leave you wondering. Pick up this book and give it a read!
I loved the part of the book that was set at the Trans-Mississippi & International Exposition, and thought it gave a good sense of what that fair might have been like for some....the part that was set out in rural Nebraska and the Wizard of Oz tie-in were less successful--seemed forced and rather self-consciously quirky.
Page Terror
Page Terror Review:

The Swan Gondola is a magical escapade. If you are looking for a beautiful love story entwined with enticing prose and historical accuracy, this is the novel for you. The novel is a whirlwind of passion, truly evoking spectacle in history with a natural theatricality that captures the period he is portraying on paper. Like its characters, the novel itself is cloaked in costume, stripped, polka-dotted, silky, and colorful, resembling a child’s pi...more
Elizabeth A
I really liked his earlier book, The Coffins of Little Hope, so was looking forward to this one.

I am not a quitter, but at page 261, I have decided to throw in the towel. This story started out so well, and I love the setting of the 1898 Omaha World's Fair. However, the main characters are not well fleshed out, I found the romance boring, and I lost interest with where the story was headed. I've made myself sit down with it several times after I lost interest, but to no avail.

On the plus side, t...more
I loved this book. It reminded me of The Night Circus and The Sisters Brothers. If you're looking for an original story, this is it!

I can easily see this book made into a movie.
First I loved this book because of my Omaha connection and the past world it dreamt up for me. Then I loved it for the story within that which pulled me in. Then I loved it for the beautiful heartbreak I knew was coming but never quite precisely saw how. Regardless, there was a lot to love.
3.5 stars. First, I feel the need to clarify that primarily this is a book about obsession, rather than the World's Fair, or Omaha, or even a standard love story. Those elements all play their part, but they are overwhelmingly swallowed up by the concept of Ferret's obsession with Cecily. That is not a good thing, but it also didn't ruin the book for me. No complaints about the writing. Schaffert's prose is beautifully evocative and moving. His description of the fair and all its characters is a...more
The language within The Swan Gondola is intoxicating. It draws in an unsuspecting reader and wholly captures their imagination and attention. The imagery of the World Fair alone is breathtaking with its unmasking of the false fronts and facades of decadence and prosperity. Nothing is remotely sacred in this novel, as Ferret shares every answer behind various sleight-of-hand tricks, magical tricks, and other flim-flammery so common at fairs and circuses. The story is an absolutely fascinating loo...more
I wanted to like this book given the topic and that fact he used the library as a resource. However, I just could not get into the Wizard of Oz fantasy thing. I would have loved to hear more about the fair. This was a tough read for me.
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This book was both what I expected and wanted and exactly what I didn't. Rather than reminding me of The Night Circus, it really reminded me of Moulin Rouge and the Wizard of Oz. It was not nearly so exuberant and bright and filled with energy as the two I previously mentioned, but it had some similar qualities. This book reads like a dream, like a simple story of love and loss and finding happiness and moving forwards.

I was hooked from the beginning by the writing and by the characters. It was...more
A lush and thrilling romantic fable about two lovers set against the scandalous burlesques, midnight séances, and aerial ballets of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair.

On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn’t quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful an...more
Really unimpressive. I rage quit about 200 pages in. The main characters are shallowly formed, and what is defined is insipid and stupid. I get it, Cecily is pretty and good at everything and always dresses uniquely. The love story was also oddly paced- I was reading about them kissing and found myself thinking "wait... They're in love now? Did I skip a chapter?" Completely disinterested in if they end up together, and as that is the central focus of the plot, I am completely disinterested in re...more
Bloggers Recommend
With charm and whimsy, Schaffert sweeps readers up into the exuberance of a late-19th-century World’s Fair. The Swan Gondola is a lush stage of vivid characters, ventriloquism, sleights of hand, lost love, and spiritualism. A love letter to Omaha and an homage to The Wizard of Oz, this is an unforgettable novel.
Jenny Kim
I was charm by the story and the characters. A man with no means meets a woman with no means and they fall in love but enters a wealthy man who steals her away. It’s not a new concept but it is well written, romantic fiction that reads well. I see it more in the line of modern retelling of classic The Wuthering Height set against the Omaha World’s Fair in the summer of 1898.
The love story was believeable and touching and the setting and the supporting characters within which the love story unfol...more
This book starts off with a killer opening scene - a hot air balloon dramatically makes an emergency landing and collapses atop a decrepit farmhouse owned by a pair of eccentric elderly sisters. Echoes of the Wizard of Oz abound. I'm smitten with the sisters, thinking there might be a little magical realism here, fascinated by the idea of a hot air balloon covering my house. But no. Most of the book leaves out the fetching sisters altogether, and takes place at the Omaha World's Fair of 1898. It...more
Douglas Lord
Schaffert (The Coffins of Little Hope, 2011) starts with a stunning fragment about damaged, handsome young Bartholomew “Ferret” Skerritt crashing his stolen hot-air balloon into the home of two spinsters. The wayward Ferret is fresh off heartbreak and disaster at the 1898 World’s Fair in Omaha (which folks hoped “could unmuddy the river and uncloud the skies”). The story that follows alternates between pretty (if unpenetrating) tableaux and mildly unbelievable plot pieces that move the action fo...more
The book started off slowly, but picked up about midway through. It's a story of two people who meet at the World's Fair in Omaha. They are thrown together and then apart several times throughout the book, to the point where it is obvious they are not destined for each other. Ferrit is the main character, and Cecily his love interest. While Ferrit is a likable character and readers probably won't have a difficult time championing him,I found Cecily to be cold and distant and we cannot get a good...more
Jake Hainey
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This book started off really well, with main character, ventriloquist, Ferret, falling from the sky in a stolen hot air balloon, crashing into the farm owned by the Old Sisters Egan, to whom he tells the tale of how he got there.
Unfortunatly, like Ferrets balloon, the book plummets quickly.

The main problem with the book is the central romance that lies at the heart of it. It’s simply not interesting. Ferret’s love for the glamorous Cecil...more
In the fall of 1898, a young ventriloquist named Ferret Skeritt falls from the sky in a hot-air balloon and lands on the house of a pair of elderly sisters in rural Nebraska. He sustains a broken leg and a few other injuries, but nothing is as broken as his heart. Earlier in the year, Ferret was anticipating the beginning of the Omaha World's Fair, much like the rest of the city. At the time, Omaha was a much smaller and rougher town. Ferret makes most of his living with his ventriloquist act, t...more
Charlie Smith
Here is my review as seen on my blog at HERE WE ARE GOING:

As always, my reviews are as much to do with my personal blather-babble as they are the book, but feel free to skip my blogtherapy session to the bold-faced headline below where discussion of The Swan Gondola actually begins in earnest. Not that my personal revelations aren't in earnest. Oh, they are. Still, no doubt, you have something to do on Valentine's Day, unlike me.

PS: I suppose you could sa...more
Kelly Gilbert
I was quite excited to find that my first ARC was the Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert. Having never read any of his other books, I was not sure what to expect, although the comparisons to Midnight Circus and Water for Elephants intrigued me. I was not disappointed.

The story begins in Omaha, Nebraska in 1898 when a hot air balloon crash lands onto the unsuspecting farmhouse of the Old Sisters Eagen. Their discovery of the balloon's driver, Ferret, changes their lives forever as he relates his s...more
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Author of five novels: The Swan Gondola, The Coffins of Little Hope, Devils in the Sugar Shop, The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God, and The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters. Director of the (downtown) omaha lit fest. Contributing editor, Fairy Tale Review. Assistant Professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln creative writing program.

"The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God" is part o...more
More about Timothy Schaffert...
The Coffins of Little Hope The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God Devils in the Sugar Shop Lady of the Burlesque Ballet

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