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The Swan Gondola

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  1,285 ratings  ·  281 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
Hardcover, 458 pages
Published February 6th 2014 by Riverhead Books
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3.46  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,285 ratings  ·  281 reviews

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Jul 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: i-said, lod
It is always these three star reviews that for me at least are the most difficult to write. It isn’t as though the book was a waste of my time but neither did it hold me enthralled in its claws as those four and five star books are want to do.

As the story opens Emmaline and Hester, known as The Old Sisters Egan, are enjoying a peaceful afternoon when suddenly their house goes all dark, and begins to creak and shake, rattle and roll, quite urgently, causing books, china and balls of yarn to go f
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
Nov 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 1898 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
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
Elizabeth A
Feb 15, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2014, dnf
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
Chris Blocker
Jan 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: rage-quit
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
Jake Hainey
Jun 04, 2014 rated it it was ok
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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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
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
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.
Feb 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
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.
This story, set during Omaha's 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition, is told from the carnival workers' viewpoint...complete with prostitutes, ne'er-do-well entertainers, and anarchists. I found it hard to like any of the characters and didn't feel like any of the Wizard of Oz devices/references worked well. Omaha itself comes off as a cow town trying to make it to the big time with a fair that brings President McKinley to town. Although I found some of the period language interesting and colorful, ...more
Kimberly Karalius
Feb 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-favorites
When I found Timothy Schaffert's THE SWAN GONDOLA in my local B&N, I snatched it up and half-walked, half-ran to the nearest cashier, somewhat expecting to have the book stolen right out from under me by some other greedy fan.

The thing is, even though this is the first novel I've read by Schaffert, I already loved his writing. I first read his short story, "The Mermaid in the Tree," a retelling of The Little Mermaid published in MY MOTHER SHE KILLED ME, MY FATHER HE ATE ME. I'm still hoping
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,
Dec 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommended to Kristina by: Vicki
I really wanted to like this story more. Timothy Schaeffer's prose alone could have made me give it more stars. I was getting wonderfully lost in his words and descriptions. I tend to get impatient with authors that spend paragraph after unending paragraph describing a scene, and was pleasantly surprised that I was relishing every single detail in his words.

It was the pacing and eventual outcome of the story that caused me to only give this 3 stars. For the first 3/5ths of the book, I was immers
Jul 08, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
Lydia Presley
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Bethany by: Kimberly Karalius
Oh.... my goodness.

A few times last year I made the mistake of checking out books from the library, reading them, and then returning them before marking them as currently-reading or read on goodreads. Most of the time I would remember to do it afterwards. Most of the time.

So... I read this book sometime last year and it's been chilling on my to-read ever since. I actually realized this several months ago and was like, "Haha, I should fix that." But I never did because I can't make myself functio
Page Terror
Apr 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
[4.5 Stars] 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 charact
Jul 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Historical Fiction

G/R book description:

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.

This quirky book begins with a hot air balloon falling on the house of two Nebraska spinster sisters near Omaha.

The story goes back and forth from current events at the sisters' house, to previous events just prior to the (fictional) 1898 Omaha World's Fair.

Young Ferret Skerrit, ventriloquist, magici
Jan 20, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-must-reads, 2014
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-n-z
I've rounded this one up to 4 stars rather than do my norm of rounding down because it was, at times, so nearly a really good book.
But at other times it felt as if Schaffert had bitten off more than he could chew, and the writing slipped far too nearly into contrived cliché.
The novel is set in and around the World’s Fair of 1898 held in the Western town of Omaha. The description of the Fair is far and away the best part of the book - although having said that, it isn't a patch on the descript
Dec 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
I've never read a book set at the Omaha World's Fair*, so that was a new experience. I enjoyed the magical romance (it felt much like one from any number of Woody Allen's films/screenplays like his recent "Magic in the Moonlight"). If you've just escaped the horrifying masterpiece, "A Little Life", this is the perfect antidote and I'm recommending this to a fellow reader who read "Little Life" with me. As for me, I've escaped into the cozy world of M.C. Beaton and Agatha Christie. (*Okay, so the ...more
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
Well... derivative-- but in the author's defense- he actually mentions 'The Wizard of Oz' as his major... 'influence.' Read this if you are super bored, sick, or essentially want an easy read with... lots of pages. (Ha.)
Jun 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club-reads
I did enjoy this book with all its twists & turns. However, it was a long, difficult read and I don't know why. There was only one spot that felt fast paced and I felt like I tore threw those pages. The rest of it was intriguing enough to keep me picking the book up but I just lazily read it in bursts.
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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
“Hester, meanwhile, says we should live all of life back to front. We should be born old and age younger. Our baptism should be a ritual of our funeral. We should die as infants, content in our mothers' arms, having lost all our learning and all sense of disappointment. If only we could die, she says, not knowing we'd ever grieved.” 1 likes
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