Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

Rate this book
From the bestselling author of The Dovekeepers comes a spectacularly imaginative and moving new novel in the vein of The Night Circus that has been acclaimed by Jodi Picoult as 'truly stunning: part love story, part mystery, part history, and all beauty'.

New York City, 1911. Meet Coralie Sardie, circus girl, web-fingered mermaid, shy only daughter of Professor Sardie and raised in the bizarre surroundings of his Museum of Extraordinary Things.

And meet Eddie Cohen, a handsome young immigrant who has run away from his painful past and his Orthodox family to become a photographer, documenting life on the teeming city streets. One night by the freezing waters of the Hudson River, Coralie stumbles across Eddie, who has become enmeshed in the case of a missing girl, and the fates of these two hopeful outcasts collide as they search for truth, beauty, love and freedom in tumultuous times.

361 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2014

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Alice Hoffman

108 books20k followers
Alice Hoffman is the author of more than thirty works of fiction, including The World That We Knew; The Marriage of Opposites; The Red Garden; The Museum of Extraordinary Things; The Dovekeepers; Here on Earth, an Oprah’s Book Club selection; and the Practical Magic series, including Practical
Magic; Magic Lessons; The Rules of Magic, a selection of Reese’s Book Club; and The Book of Magic. She lives near Boston.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
12,265 (23%)
4 stars
21,418 (40%)
3 stars
14,140 (26%)
2 stars
3,704 (7%)
1 star
1,072 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,376 reviews
Profile Image for Stuart Smith.
82 reviews82 followers
August 12, 2013
It’s everything that I wanted Night Circus to be. It’s everything Water for Elephants aspired to be and just wasn’t. It has that gloomy mood of the Broadway show Side Show (book by Bill Russell) mixed with that “freak” nature that made me love Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (1989). It has hints of political and class strife like Ragtime but there is a love story here that I haven’t seen any of these works accomplish.

The prose that Hoffman tucks away in the nooks and crannies of these pages not only inspire and delight, but they bring depth, heart and familiarity to these rough around the edges characters. Today I looked back over some of the lines I had underlined with my pencil and each one either brought tears to my eyes or a shiver up my backbone.

The seasoned symbolism Hoffman offers really blew me away as well. The fires in this story suggesting rebirth or great change, the stolen time piece of Eddie’s that symbolizes the burden he carries with him and finally let’s go of, the wildness of the wolf who could not be tamed walking alongside Eddie on the New York City Streets.
Profile Image for Melanie.
Author 6 books1,203 followers
March 22, 2014
How could a novel set in such a thrilling and fascinating time period and location (New York City in the early twentieth century) be such a disappointment? I was really looking forward to delving into this world and in the end, I could not wait to finish this overwrought, far-fetched and ultimately ridiculous story. The characters were nothing more than one-dimensional creations meant to embody archetypes (the Jewish immigrant, the European charlatan, the Innocent Cinderella) and hurled into real historical events like slaves into the lion pit.
You constantly feel the novel digesting its research and regurgitating it not very subtly, treating dramatic historical events almost off-handedly, with dryness and an alarming absence of real pathos.
The "love story" is completely farcical and devoid of any complexity and sense of progression. I understand that there is supposed to be an element of magic realism at play here but can writers still write sentences like "She saw him and knew in that instant that she loved him" (I'm paraphrasing) without feeling a sense of embarrassment?
Magic realism cannot work if you cannot believe in the foundations of the story and sadly, there was nothing believable in these characters and the way they interacted with each other.
The novel is also riddled with repetitions and tedious, cliché declarations about the immigrant experience and the nature of identity.
A little bit of a masquerade. "Sigh".
Profile Image for Heather.
996 reviews23 followers
January 10, 2014
Five stars is not enough. If I could I'd give it ten stars. I can't even with this book...my heart feels like it might explode. Joy does not begin to describe how I feel after finishing one of Hoffman's books. I feel transformed. Am I the only one who ever feels this pure rush of emotion after reading a book? I hope not.
Profile Image for Erica.
1,332 reviews436 followers
July 16, 2015
What just happened?

I think I'm turning into a monster, a horrible monster who hates everything and everyone and lives on dissatisfaction and bitterness.

How in the world could I not have loved this book? I mean, look at the title! The cover! The synopsis! It's full of promise and I was lured in by the tantalizing story of a girl who grows up alongside her father's museum of oddities and assortments and is, herself, abnormal and is trying to come to terms with her perceived place in the changing world.

But that's not what this book is about.
Profile Image for Melissa.
647 reviews28.6k followers
October 24, 2016
3.5 stars

What struck my curiosity with this one was exactly that - the thrill of entering a world full of curiosities, oddities and wonder. This was my first dose of Alice Hoffman's writing and I’m pretty confident when I say, it won’t be the last of her books I read. Even though The Museum of Extraordinary Things wasn’t everything I imagined it to be, there was a beauty and a depth to her words that kept me going.

The Museum is a place of illusions, bogus science and a cruel professor. For about the first half of the book, I felt like I was reading two separate stories. The author really took her time setting up the backstory and delving in to the lives of the two very distinct perspectives - Coralie and Eddie. The characters were fully developed and likable for different reasons, but it took entirely too long for the mermaid and the lost Jewish boy to cross paths.

“You know what love is? It’s what you least expect.”

The one thing that both Coralie and Eddie desired, from a young age, was that sense of freedom. To be able to live their lives how they chose to; not to be held captive by guilt or obligation. It isn’t until the halfway mark that they have any sort of interaction and that was my biggest gripe with the story. Their connection felt weak to me. I wish the author would have struck more of a balance between the development of their individual pasts and the time they spent together. I love the fact that Coralie and Eddie found what they needed in one another, but a big part of me couldn’t shake the insta-love feel of their relationship. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t get love at first sight. Who knows.

That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate the ending, the actual Coney Island history woven into the storyline or the notion that things aren’t always as they appear.
1,159 reviews5 followers
December 9, 2013
I fear that I am a little close to this subject to be able to appropriately judge it. For the sake of full disclosure, I have to admit that I manage the museum collection for the Coney Island Museum, so I know the history, I know the stories of the Dreamland fire, the various visits by famous people, the layout of the attractions, and the generally surprising stories of 1911 Coney Island. That being said, there is little new in the way of Coney Island history. It has all been written before.

At first I was very intrigued by Coralie's life. Her imprisonment in her father's Museum of Extraordinary Things, her forced swims and attempts to be a sea monster were very interesting. Her fascination with Dreamland and old Coney Island were interesting to me too, but the primary story fell flat. I found the Professor's horrors to be horrifying, as expected, and the love story unconvincing. (This too could be a problem of mine, since I find those love at first sight swooning obsessions that often crop up in historical fiction to be eye-rollingly unbelievable).

While it was not unenjoyable, I felt that this book has been written before, and better. For an excellent representation of Bowery life, the Jewish immigrant experience, the ins and outs of 1910-1911 Coney Island, the gangsters and prostitutes and corrupt officials, read Kevin Baker's Dreamland. It too has its problems, but it was much more immersive. For a better story of circus sideshow folk, and the unethical things people do to each other, read Geek Love - it's an incredibly good novel.

Profile Image for B the BookAddict.
300 reviews654 followers
March 9, 2014

Two words – horribly disappointing.

I'd be really relieved if Alice Hoffman stepped up to say she was busy cataloguing her library of obscure Latin books on topography and so paid someone else to write this novel for her. Because that's how unlike Hoffman's usual books, this latest offering is. This novel contains none of her signature lyrical sentences and not one character you can admire or understand. There is nothing whimsical here, no brooding relationship; it is not a story you wish you could slip into.

A weak-willed female character who has a perverted father with a twisted mind, an unattractive selfish male character set against an cruel backdrop, two story-lines which cross far too late in the novel; somewhat the opposite of usual plots which Hoffman devises for her novels. The museum mentioned in the title is little more than a sideshow of freaks of nature: think – the Elephant Man.

 photo 220px-Joseph_Merrick_carte_de_visite_photo_c_1889_zps76503ce8.jpg

The history featured, the fires at Triangle Shirt Factory and Coney Island, is not done so well enough to interest me sufficiently to run to Google to see the facts of these events: usually I'm a devil for hunting down historical facts mentioned in books. And do not get me started on the chapter-prefacing italics sections!!!

I am a Alice Hoffman devotee and I was horribly disappointed. I'd say: don't bother 1★

Come on Alice, 'fess up - tell me you didn't write this, please?
Profile Image for Elaine.
12 reviews1 follower
August 12, 2016
Two confessions:
1. My first Alice Hoffman book
2. I was concerned I would constantly compare it to Night Circus
So, having finished the book I:
1. I want to read more Alice Hoffman
2. What Circus??
Don’t get me wrong I loved Night Circus but for different reasons.
Coralie and Eddie’s stories kept me equally enthralled as these two young people each struggled to find their own way in the world despite and because of their families and backgrounds. I thought the ties to historical events were well researched and fleshed out as part of this riveting fiction.
I received this ARC from a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,295 reviews35k followers
October 14, 2020
4.5 stars.

This was a very unique book. I found the writing to be quite beautiful. The alternating story lines really appealed to me. I often don't like when books alternate between characters points of view but in this book it really worked for me. I found the characters to be very unique and original.

Coralie is the daughter of the owner of the Museum of Extrodinary Things. It's no Museum, it's a freak show where Coralie is featured as a Mermaid. She was born with webbed fingers and her father uses her disfigurement (as he uses all of his performers) to make money. She is taught to swim, hold her breath for long periods of time so she can be a featured performer in his museum/show. She preforms along with the Wolf man and the Butterfly girl.

Eddie is a photographer who does not want to work in his father's apprentice in his tailor shop. He provides the other voice in this book and happens to Photograph the famous Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. He and Coralie meet while he is taking photos on night in the moonlight.

I can't do this book justice. I don't know how to. I only know how to say this book should be read and then possibly re-read as there are so many wonderful parts. This book was very hard to put down especially the last part of the book. Highly recommend.

Read more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,377 reviews1,438 followers
May 11, 2018
The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a beautifully written book about belonging, love and beauty, among other things.

It is the story of Coralie, a girl with webbing between her fingers who lives with her father and his collection of extraordinary things and people.

"My father was both a scientist and magician, but he declared that it was in literature wherein we discovered our truest natures." pg 2

It is also the story of Eddie, a Jewish boy who flees with his father from a village in Russia after his mother is murdered.

Eddie is a photographer and Coralie is one of her father's "extraordinary things."

"Eddie had come to understand that what a man saw and what actually existed in the natural world were often contradictory." pg 57

Both Eddie and Coralie have known hard times, poverty and hunger. They have been beaten down, overworked and abused.

"People will disappoint you with their cruelty every time." pg 5

They both carry secrets. Coralie has discovered a diary in a locked drawer in the basement. Eddie has a stolen watch in his pocket.

"The Museum of Extraordinary Things was a true museum, a place of edification, wherein natural curiosities were displayed along with human marvels. Now, however, they needed more, and, when more could not be found, it must be invented." pg 28

Beyond the personal lives of the two protagonists, this is also a story about New York and how it was developing outwards, consuming the woods and running pavement over grass.

It is also about the development of labor laws, the rights of the worker and unions.

Two actual catastrophic fires are recorded in this historical fiction. They highlight the horrific losses humanity has sometimes endured in the name of progress and, especially in the case of the factory fire, greed.

Those pages are hard to read. But Hoffman has written them beautifully and they feel true, as if the reader is standing there, watching the disasters unfold, and questioning what horrific things sometimes happen.

"It's dangerous to look into things you don't understand," Coralie advised. "You haven't seen the half of what there is in this world." "Perhaps you're one of the extraordinary things I don't understand." pg 241

Recommended for adult readers because of disturbing content and abuse, both physical and emotional. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is haunting, but beautiful; dark with moments of light in the shadow; and truly, filled with extraordinary people and things.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
February 13, 2014
I loved all the history in this novel, the burgeoning Coney Island, the freak shows and all the strange sights to see on the Boardwalk. The descriptions of these things were amazing and this was the best characterization in this novel. I am a big time Hoffman fan, but this was not one of my favorites of hers. It did include some of her trademark magic realism but her characters, just did not draw me in, at least not after the first part of the book.

There are two separate story lines going on and the connection between them was tenuous at best. I liked the characters but never felt like I really got to know them, but everyone may not feel this way. So I would say this is readable for the history alone, the sights and sounds of the boardwalk as well as the Triangle Shirt factory fire. If the characters had drawn me in more this probably would have been one of my favorites of her but alas..........

ARC from publisher.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,228 reviews2,058 followers
May 20, 2020
I have read several books by Alice Hoffman now and my experiences are up and down, so with each new book I read I am not sure what to expect. I did like this one.

First though I have to comment on the overuse of italics. Presenting whole pages in italics is just disconcerting, harder to read and really not necessary. Complaint over, moving on...

The best part of The Museum of Extraordinary Things is the history which the author introduces so naturally into her story. It is not the first time I have met up with the factory disaster where all the seamstresses on the ninth floor were locked in and jumped to their deaths from the windows rather than burn. This was included, as was the Coney Island disaster when Dreamland and its surroundings burned to the ground and escaped wild animals ran loose in the city. Who needs fiction when the facts are so amazing.

Of course Hoffman's fiction is good too. I enjoyed so many of her characters, especially the unusual ones. They had such sad lives being put on show to be gawked at by the public. I was glad the author imagined happy endings for some of them. Coralie and Eddie came together so late in the book I started to wonder if their ending was going to be happy or sad. Some suspenseful moments there!

The epilogue was satisfying and I was left feeling that I had just experienced a good book. Definitely worth four stars but please, no more italics.
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 47 books128k followers
August 2, 2015
I love Alice Hoffman. I just think I've read too many "quirky freak show/circus people in fantasy or alt-worlds" lately. Or just in my life. This is a nice book though, the writing is lovely as always, I just felt like the ending didn't kind of live up to the beginning somehow? It felt rushed.

Basically this book reminded me of the Night Circus a lot, which I loved more and read too close to this, so there's probably that that's making me circumstantially biased. It's a very nice book! And I'm always an Alice Hoffman fan, so there.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,138 followers
January 5, 2015
3.5 STARS Gosh, I really have mixed emotions about this latest Hoffman offering. The first part of the book did not initially draw me in or hold my interest, and it took almost half-way thru to see where the story was headed with any connection between Eddie and Coralie, the protagonists. There are great secondary characters though, particularly Maureen and Mr. Morris as well as the vile Professor Sardie (Coralie's father) who exploits every animal and human alike including his own daughter all in the name of greed.

The best part of the story for me was the inclusion and very vividly recounted true historical events of two horrific fires that took place in New York in the early 1900's; one at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and the other at Dreamland in Coney Island.

Overall, I think this is a pretty good read, for the historical value alone, but I personally would have enjoyed it more with a single narration (without the sometimes repetitiveness of the italic's section), AND without the animal cruelty.

Profile Image for Jenna .
137 reviews181 followers
February 18, 2014
What a ride!! I'll be posting my review tomorrow...right now I have to pull myself together and get my emotions back in check. Wow! This is my favorite of the year so far.

It may seem like I am giving the book away, but I promise that I am barely touching the surface. Okay, here goes:


“This is the dawning of the Age of the Aquarius…Aquarius! Aquarius!”. I’ve never had that song in my head, ever. Well, maybe the night after I saw the traveling production of Hair, but that has been quite a while back. It kept repeating in my head this morning as though it were dying to be heard, and how fitting that the book comes out tomorrow during the month of the Aquarius and the book is centered around a young girl who lives the life of a fish.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things begins with a young lady named Coralie. Her name seems fitting as she is destined to live most of her life in water. Her father, Sadie/the Professor is a tyrant who was once a magician in France. After being exposed and sued for the mistreatment of one of his employees, he snuck away to New York City where he decided to work in the name of Science rather than magic. This is how the Museum is brought to life. This place is not what one would consider an ordinary museum, as the name insinuates, but one filled with animals, fossils, and humans of the unique type. Sadie hires employees who are missing arms and replaces them with silk butterfly wings, a man who is completely covered with hair and looks beastly, a woman so thin that you can practically see through her, etc. At one point he refers to them as freaks, so in some ways this is his idea of a freak show for all the world to see and it is all in the name of ‘science’. It is not just the performers who have a ‘deformity’, but Coralie has one just as well. She has webbed fingers that are continuously hidden by gloves year round, with the exception of when she is in the water. Naturally she is ashamed to be so different and had once attempted to cut the webbing off.

It isn’t until Coralie turns ten-years-old that she is even allowed to see all of the creatures and attractions of the museum. As a child, she was forced to cover her eyes with Muslin so that she couldn’t see all of the monstrosities of the museum. The day of her tenth birthday would be the day that she would become the main attraction, and she knows this as soon as she spies her birthday gift from her father.

“It stood in a place of honor: a large tank of water. On the bottom there were shells gathered from all over the world, from the Indian Ocean to the China Sea.” “Beneath that title was carved one word alone, my name, Coralie. I did not need further instructions. I understood that all of my life had been mere practice for this very moment. Without being asked, I slipped off my shoes. I knew how to swim.” ~Coralie

Up until this point in her life, her father had been grooming her for this very day. She was to only take baths in ice water and lie underneath the surface practicing how long she could hold her breath. She would swim in the frigid Hudson River in the winter and could have been considered a fish for she could swim in conditions that most could not. All of this was to prepare her to swim in a tank as a mermaid with a hidden air tube that she rarely needed to use due to the rigorous training up until that point in her life. “She felt she barely needed air.”

Her father was always looking for the next big attraction and when Coralie’s popularity started to wan as she got older, he set out in hopes of something bigger. During the evenings, he had her swim in the River while tugging at fishing lines and frightening local fisherman to believe there was a monster of some kind in the water. He was doing this in hopes to be the person who discovers this beast and of course will display it in his museum.

One evening, the current seems to be stronger than Coralie is used to and she has no marker that lets her know how far up the river she is. She swims further than planned and comes upon a handsome man and his overly-friendly pit bull terrier. She sees that he is next to a camera and must be a photographer. When she sees his face, it is as though she falls in love in that very instant.

Eddie is the name of the photographer. He was once a practicing Orthodox Jew named Ezekiel, but after his father jumps in the River of what Ezekiel believes is an attempt of suicide for the mourning of his deceased mother, Ezekiel decides in that moment that his father is a coward and he doesn’t want to be like him.

Ezekiel is soon hired by a local “wizard”, Abraham Hochman, who the locals believe is psychic and solves the locations of husbands who have escaped the duties of their families in order to begin a new life. It seems miraculous that he solves all of these mysteries all by himself to the public, but in truth he hires a handful of young boys to do his dirty work. Ezekiel becomes one of his runners and find that he has a natural talent at finding the scum bags and even finds the corpse of a missing boy although he gets no recognition for it, as it is Hochman who is believed to have discovered the location of the deceased boy.

Not long after this Ezekiel happens upon a photographer named Moses Levy, cuts his hair, and changes his name to Eddie and leaves the world of the Orthodox behind. He becomes an apprentice of the photographer up until his death. Although at times he felt like an imposter with the camera, Eddie tried to stay on the same path as his mentor as he knew he was headed in the right direction.

“Eddie had come to understand that what a man saw and what actually existed in the natural world often were contradictory. The human eye was not capable of true sight, for it was constrained by its own humanness, clouded by regret, and opinion, and faith. Whatever was witnessed in the real world unknowable in real time. It was the eye of the camera that captured the world as it truly was. For this reason photography was not only Eddie’s profession, it was his calling.”

Eventually he realizes that he doesn’t have the same eye as Levy, who focused mainly on the beauty of nature and make a living shooting the happiness of wedding ceremonies. What enticed Eddie was the human condition in its various environments. He soon became a photographer for the newspapers, snapping shots of criminals who were either guilt-ridden or dead of all emotion and crime scenes. After seeing the world of shady men abandoning their families, corpses, and murderer’s it seems that Eddie has no use for life and is very detached in it. Eventually he is called to use his skills of investigating again and his life sets in an entirely different direction, one that introduces him to Coralie. It isn’t until the sight of Coralie that something unravels inside his heart and shakes him to the core.

The depth of the book is amazing and the descriptives were astounding. Some can focus on the incredibly bad card that these two, and everyone around them for that matter, were dealt, but there is real beauty in each and every one of them. The heart of the story boils down to these two individuals who are searching for the truth and they see this quality, and somehow an immediate bond is formed. Coralie allows Eddie to see that his emotions aren’t dead and that he has an enormous amount of compassion and empathy that is deeply hidden. On the other hand, Eddie seems to bring out a side of Coralie that allows her to question her surroundings and eventually she aids him in exposing secrets and lies. They seem to work harmoniously together without effort.

There were a handful of other characters and I became attached to every single one of them from Coralie to a Cereus plant that lies dormant and frustrates Coralie. Each and every life of the museum was exposed in a way that I wanted them to be set free and that included Coralie as well. I never thought it possible to be connected to even inanimate objects of a novel, but I am now guilty of it.

I would say that this is my favorite book of the year so far. I never bite my nails and yet I have stubs today after finishing the book last night. My eyes were also a bit puffy from the tears the characters pulled from me. I was definitely taken for a ride with this read and although my emotions were all over the place, I appreciate a book that is able to pull that much emotion out of me.

This book will be out tomorrow February 18, and I highly suggest reading this one. Not only is is unique, but it pulls you into the story. I suppose that I will keep singing the Aquarius song in my head, but hopefully it has stopped now that I have purged the contents of this book on the screen, so I will end it with, “Let the sun shine, let the sun shine in”.

Thanks to Netgalley and Scribner for allowing me a copy of this fantastic novel.


Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
685 reviews3,642 followers
November 29, 2015
This was an interesting read about Coralie who was born with a deformity, and who now works for her father in The Museum of Extraordinary Things. This museum is placed on Coney Island in the 1900s, and it's an exhibition of magical or deformed creatures who are not considered humans.
This story is also about Eddie; a photographer working in New York City. Every second chapter is told from his perspective, and the rest is told from Coralie's.
While this was a very intriguing story about how abnormal people can be treated and looked upon, it also had a very slow pacing. The beginning of the book is heavy on the descriptions, and it isn't until the very last chapters that things start to really pick up and you see what the bigger picture is. While I don't need for a book to have a fast pace throughout, I found myself bored reading most of this book.
Eddie's story was highly interesting because it was relatable. I found it fascinating reading about his photographies and his growing up into adulthood. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Coralie. While I suffered with her, I just couldn't connect with her in any way, which made all of her chapters dull to me.
This was my first book by Alice Hoffman, and despite my problems with its pacing and one of its characters, it has impeccable writing! Alice knows her craft and I enjoyed stumbling upon beautiful phrases. I still wonder, though, why she decided to split each chapter up in a section from a 1st person narrator and then a section from a 3rd person narrator - both sections were on the same character. That feature puzzled me quite a bit, and I don't feel like it added too much to the story.
All in all, an interesting and educating read that however took a lot of devotion to get through.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,440 reviews830 followers
April 6, 2017
The first half was quite good. I thought the reviewers had it wrong and that the stars should be higher.. But the second half, I lost interest and ended up speed reading . My first book by this author. It might well be the last.
Profile Image for Dustin.
439 reviews154 followers
May 20, 2015

“Listen, and you’ll hear a story being told, one you may need to know.”

My introduction to Alice Hoffman isn’t exactly memorable.
Practical Magic which spawned the 1998 film, starring Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, and Goran Visnjic, seemed to primarily focus on the progression of plot, as opposed to character development. In between chapters, I seem to recall there being interludes containing various ingredients, mostly natural herbs, which, in light of the rest of the 1995 novel, added a little something. The writing itself, however, left much to be desired. At the time, it felt mediocre, though I could be mistaken, as I often reminds myself that memory is subjective. Additionally, I’m a completely different person now. I don’t believe that I fully appreciated quality writing (which might or might not have been there.) And I longed for more plot and action.

On a side note, the film is one of the very rare instances where I actually prefer it over the novel.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is wholly different. In fact, I recognized almost instantly that the writing is truly stellar. In the interim, she honed her craft by leaps and bounds. It’s often beautiful, touching, and profound. In hindsight, I think I knew that as long as her exquisite writing persisted, and featured a compelling, well thought out cast, and decent storytelling, then it would be time wisely spent. It is all that, and much more. In a word, it's masterful.

One of its strongest aspect is, undoubtedly, its historical accuracy, and for that alone Hoffman should be commended. In particular, she wrote about New York in the early 1900’s, and the tragic Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, and the horrific impact it had on Manhattan.


In in the midst of devastation, heroism inevitably arises. It has to. It’s like an unspoken rule, or something. Such wisdom seems true not only in real life, but in fiction, as well. And in my admittedly limited experience, no other author does it as well as Hoffman. (She’s second only to Truman Capote, truly.) But more to the point, she utilized the facts and shaped her novel around them in such a way that it’s indescribable in a lot of ways. Her characters thrive as they’re thrown violently into this situation, which resulted in an impressive plot twist that though I knew a mysterious elements was forthcoming, I never saw its likeness emerging until it hit me squarely in the chest. This fascinating development allowed the crux of the story to thrive. Hoffman also helped solidify the novel’s sense of reality by incorporating historical icons, such as Alfred Stieglitz and Moses Levy. Their innovative techniques in photography played significant parts in forever altering how we perceive art, the world, and to some extent, ourselves.




Eddie Cohen, a Ukranian immigrant to New York, is an apprentice to Hochman, receives the following advice from the aforementioned charlatan:

“..Go back in time as far as you must. Speak to everyone who knew her. If you don’t find her, then in all likelihood she will find you. But you know what to do. Despite your flaws, you were my finest student…”

Hochman’s method’s of investigation felt very realistic to me. Reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s early detective fiction, they were unique and groundbreaking, with a strong emphasis on professionalism, without the victim blaming that’s so prevalent today. The former work ethic felt hyper-surreal (almost otherwordly) and it saddens me that for the most part, it’s a thing of the past. Most astonishing was the fact that while reading Hochman’s words, it seemed original, despite the fact that Poe instilled similar values long before the events of Hoffman’s novel.


Upon further reflection, Eddie realized that “..it was the path of the soul he must set out to discover. To find someone, it was necessary to follow in the way that the angel’s who follow men’s lives on earth are said to do, charting each trespass without judgment, for judgment is never ours to give.”

There’s much to be said about U.S. immigration. The fact that it’s such a hot topic now makes it that much more relevant, and strengthens the work and the theme. As seen here, the influx of Russian and Ukranian individuals that desired better lives for themselves and their children.

In the long run, I think much of the novel comes down to photography, and the technological advances of the early 1900’s, which are symbolic of the world’s one constant: change. Hoffman also seems to be saying a lot about the power of a photograph:

“In Levy’s [photographs] each tree possessed a soul, each field a beating heart.”

I almost get the sense that she likens it to God, which totally makes sense, as religion-the Jewish faith especially– plays a big part here.

Together, Moses Levy and Alfred Stieglitz had the innate ability to “see into the world of shadows,” their art not only penetrated the grey realities of life, but the light and darkness, as well. Essentially, they captured “the soul” of the subject, positive or grim, and let the world decide. Much like Hochman and E.A. Poe’s sleuth, they seized the moment, reveling in honesty and goodness and compassion, regardless of its social standing.

“In our world of shadows, there is no black and white but a thousand different strokes of light.”

The narrative of the novel itself isn’t something you read every day, either. The two main characters, Eddie Cohen and Coralie Sardie, the daughter of a French immigrant and curator of the freakish museum, alternate back a forth, practically vying for dominance. Its format is interesting, too, because the first half of each chapter reads almost like journal entries, which takes you to the heart of these great characters. The first person combined with third person narration allows you to know them much, much more. I feel like I know them on a very personal level.
The ending is the only element that I found lacking, and I’m not even sure why. Everything fell into place nicely and nothing felt contrived (I even found myself rooting for Eddie and Coralie to be together, which is rare for me.) There’s even another killer twist, so I don’t know why it feels like something is missing. That one unknowable element, I guess..

For that reason alone, I dropped my rating down to a strong 4.5 stars.

It amazes me still, that so much growth and maturity is possible in an individual, and that Alice Hoffman was able to achieve it in a relatively short duration. Then again, what do you expect from an author that had her debut novel, Property Of, published while attending college, at twenty-one years of age?

I might just have to revisit Practical Magic, after all!

Profile Image for Paul Pessolano.
1,334 reviews39 followers
January 15, 2014
“The Museum of Extraordinary Things” by Alice Hoffman, published by Scribner.

Category – Fiction/Literature Publication Date – February 18, 2014

This book goes beyond Fiction/Literature with adding Romance and Historical Fiction to the story. The story takes place in the early 1900’s in New York City. Alice Hoffman gives insight what it must have been like to live at this time in a city that contained unbelievable wealth and unbelievable poverty. She frames her story around two major fires that took place at that time. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire where over 140 people died to a locked door, absence of a sprinkler system, and inadequate fire equipment, and most importantly greedy management. The second fire was the Dreamland Fire that for all practical purposes destroyed the area of Coney Island.

The story chronicles the lives of two young people. Coralie Sardie whose father owns a museum that today would be considered a freak show. He conditions his daughter to become a mermaid in his show and shelters her from the real world. Ezekiel Cohen who came to this country with his father find themselves at odds with each other regarding religion everyday life. He disowns his religion and his father and sets out to be a photographer. “The Museum of Extraordinary Things” falls on hard times due to competition and Coralie begins to explore life and discovering shocking things about her life. Ezekiel and Coralie come together when Ezekiel becomes involved in the hunt for a missing girl that may have run afoul while working for better working conditions in the sweat shops of New York.

A beautifully told story that should more than satisfy any reader interested in this era of history, but those that are also looking for a good romance mixed with mystery.
Profile Image for Brittany McCann.
1,657 reviews408 followers
November 18, 2022
This was a beautifully heart-breaking and magical way to tie in the brilliant Alice Hoffman's love of magical realism into setting of historical tragedy in NYC.

This was told through three narrative view points.

The overall narrator tellign the story was greta to keep thigns tied together and for story progression giving a third person perspective

While the more intimate first person perspectives were told through Coralie and Eddie.

I enjoyed both of them narrating for different reasons. Coralie was enjoyabel to hear from and to see her self-assessment as a monster with her hand and her place in her father's museum. To show how his love went past his family.

Eddie gives the reader a more dissillusioned viewpoint to take the magic off of the museum and see the true horrors of humanity.

Overall, this was one of the greatetst Alice Hoffman novels I have experienced to date. The historical aspect was also a huge tie-in to the magical realism and described beautifully.

So whimsical and gritty!

5 Stars
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,342 reviews701 followers
June 5, 2014
In this historical fiction novel, which takes place mostly during 1911 in Manhattan, Alice Hoffman details the horrors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the Dreamland Fire. I knew bits of these two fires, but didn’t realize they occurred in the same year.

Coralie Sardie is one of the narrators. She is the daughter of the evil Professor Sardie who owns “The Museum of Extraordinary Things”, which is basically a freak show. Hoffman develops her character as an innocent, devoted and complying daughter. The other narrator is Ezekiel Cohen, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who came to America as a boy. His father worked as a tailor in one of the sweat factories. Both narrators are motherless, which deeply impacts both of their lives. Each chapter opens with one of the narrator’s voice followed by the other narrator’s perspective, and then ending with a non-narrative piece that provides the reader with the outside perspective. I enjoyed Hoffman’s technique.

In the novel, as time passes, Coralie becomes more skeptical as Ezekiel (asa Eddie) becomes more trusting and loving. Because of Hoffman’s chapter technique, the reader knows that the two character’s lives will intersect at some point. This is an historical fiction novel that becomes a love story. Hoffman has great evil characters and wonderful good characters, along with those that are in the shady area of grey.

It’s a great story of love, of the frailties of mankind, and of the oddities in people that make them unique. Great story. Hoffman continues her fabulous writing ability.
Profile Image for Patricia.
72 reviews27 followers
March 8, 2014
I bought this on impulse and wish I hadn't.
While at times the writing the lovely, I found the subject matter distressing.
An ex magician runs a museum of "natural wonders" on Coney island, he's a vile and disgusting man who exploits everyone who works for him including his daughter.
There are so many ugly things in this book, parents who sell children, vulnerable people who are exploited, cruelty to animals, the cruelty of people to each other.
The book also contains lengthy descriptions of two real life fires that occurred in New York in 1911...but that just meant more awful descriptions of people and animals burning to death.
There are some very good and kind people in the story...but for the most part they are treated unfairly and still have tragic lives.
There's some happiness at the end, but by then it was too late and didn't nearly make up for the misery that came before.
Nothing 'magical' about this book, just upsetting and depressing.
Profile Image for Dianne.
559 reviews909 followers
August 10, 2014
Spellbinding! There is so much to captivate you here – the story, the language, the history, the characters, the construction of the plot and the narration devices - all are masterfully done.

The story of Coralie and Eddie is primarily book-ended by two actual events – the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911 and the Dreamland Amusement Park fire on Coney Island on May 27, 1911. Ms. Hoffman clearly did her research on these events – there is vivid detail here and some of the actual players in those events find their way into this story. I was so interested in these events after reading the book that I did my own research afterwards and marveled at how much of what was in this book was actual history.

The characters in the book are diverse and memorable. Coralie’s father “The Professor” is a cunning and depraved monster, the hermit Jacob Van der Beck is a sly but wise rascal (he delivers the book’s funniest “laugh out loud” line on page 221 of the hardcover version), Joe the liveryman is a former convict who has a strong moral center and turns out to be a hero, Mr. Morris (a.k.a. “The Wolfman”) is considered a freak but quotes Walt Whitman and has a quiet dignity and soulfulness in his bearing, Maureen is the scarred housekeeper who loves Mr. Morris and Coralie – even the dog, Mitts, has an abundance of personality.

But the heart and soul of this book is a love story of two people, Coralie and Eddie, who have no reason to believe in love but find it in spite of some significant odds. Coralie is a young woman living on Coney Island with her father and their housekeeper, Maureen. Her father runs “The Museum of Extraordinary Things,” which is basically a freak show. Born with webbing between her fingers, Coralie has been exploited by her father as his star attraction – The Human Mermaid. With her father in desperate need of a newer and grander exhibit to compete with the Dreamland Amusement Park soon to open on Coney Island, Coralie is forced to swim the Hudson River at night, pretending to be a beast with teeth and green scales. Those who catch a glimpse of her disguised form call her “The Hudson Mystery.” Coralie’s father plans to claim that he has captured the Hudson Mystery and schemes to cobble together a monster to support his claims.

Eddie is a Ukrainian refugee. He and his father are Orthodox Jews living is a Brooklyn tenement and working in factory sweatshops as tailors. One day Eddie observes his father in what he perceives to be an act of cowardice. Eddie’s whole world shifts – he abandons his faith, his father and begins to do as he pleases. One thing leads to another until Eddie discovers his true calling as a photographer. One day Eddie awakens to hear fire bells and a roar echoing from downtown. He grabs his camera and makes his way to the Asch Building, where the 8th, 9th and 10th floors are on fire – the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

How all these disparate characters and threads come together is amazing. The tale does take a bit of time to develop, but you won’t be able to put the book down by the end. This is my first 5-star read of 2014. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Laura.
181 reviews143 followers
January 27, 2016
(1.5 stars since it's just about readable)

I did not get on well with this book AT ALL. I found that surprising considering it’s set in an interesting period of history (early 20th Century) in a fascinating place (New York), is based around a freak show, a tragic factory fire and the mystery surrounding a missing girl. It’s also set in Brooklyn (where I’m currently living). With all that in mind, it’s amazing that it was SO FLIPPING DULL.

A breakdown of my peeves:

1) Annoying faux Olde Worlde language
The word ‘for’ is massively overused in this book - ‘For she knew’, ‘For he thought’. In almost all cases it’s a completely redundant word. Even more infuriatingly, nothing in the book is ever seen, looked at or found, it’s always bloody SPIED ('He spied her', 'She was worried she might be spied…'). Once I noticed these tendencies I found them intensely aggravating. It felt like the author was trying to make the book feel more authentic by using “old fashioned” language, but it was alienating more than anything, probably because it was done in such a half-assed way, incorporating only certain elements of ‘old fashioned’ writing and speech.

2) The worst case of instalove I’ve ever encountered
Seriously, it was ridiculous. The main character literally drags herself out of a polluted metropolitan waterway, ‘spies’ a man with a pitbull in the woods and falls in love with him. He doesn’t even look at her, let alone talk to her. But of course, after that she just can’t stop thinking of him. Pfft. To make matters even worse

3) I read historical fiction to learn about human experience in the past, not to learn random historical facts
(although learning about the period in question is always a cheeky bonus). The author had obviously done her research but the way that historical facts were interspersed into the story was at times beyond clunky. E.g. “She was not far from the last wild land to the north, but she had no idea of where north was, as she had no idea that the Bronx itself was being remade after the building of the Grand Concourse, modeled on Paris’s Champs-Elysees". If the character through whose perspective the story is being told doesn’t know something why is that fact included in the story? . It’s just amateurish.

4) Nothing happens!
There’s just no suspense, . Also, Eddie doesn’t do any actual detective work, .

5) Garbled, rushed plotting
It felt like the author was in a hurry to write this and because of that none of the plotlines really work. The ending was completely mangled, I couldn’t work out where each character was in the climactic scene -

This was a slog to get through but mercifully not too long. First book fail of 2016. Oh well, it was a good run.
Profile Image for Marnie  (Enchanted Bibliophile).
821 reviews122 followers
June 2, 2017
This book took forever. In fact I think it sort-off cause a reading slump.

Firstly I have to say that this was a new genre for me, and judging by this book one I'll never read again. I just couldn't get myself to care about the History in this book. Yes it was horrific, yes it was hart breaking, but it just never spoke to me.

The writing was beautiful, although very repetitive at stages. And this dragged the story out just that extra bit to much for me. It felt like nothing happened in a few chapters and then everything happens in one chapter - wham there you go.

So this is me saying thanks heaven it's done and I can move along.
Profile Image for Shahirah Loqman.
202 reviews71 followers
January 19, 2016
Gosh this book, was truly something! I picked it up on a whim and didn't expect to like it at all.

The story revolves around extraordinary people who are being displayed in a Brooklyn museum. Coralie, the daughter of the museum owner is herself, a wonder. But only wishes to be ordinary and fall in love.

Which is what happened when she met Eddie, an outcast photographer.

I loved the story plot, switching between Eddie's and Cora's POV. The story revolves around the search for a missing girl and the gothic atmosphere surrounding this early era of New York in the 20th century.

You feel like you're living in this era: in all of its disturbing, glorified essence of harsh labour, cruelty, family and escaping your past. I find myself flinching a couple of times at the descriptive scenes. The writing pulls you in and is really beautiful.

Enjoyed reading this, and would definitely recommend this. It reminds me of The Night Circus but is in a whole league of its own ;)


Update: So I did a read-a-long for this book a couple of weeks ago. And I thought I would start off a simple discussion. Feel free to join and comment below if you've already read it! Let's start it off with some simple questions about the book:

1. The story revolved around 2 fires, what did you think this symbolises?

2. Eddie says “the past was what we carried with us, threaded to the future, and we decided whether to keep it close or let it go” (139). Was Eddie able to let his past go? Did you sympathize with his decision to move away from his father?

3. Why did Maureen choose to stay with the Professor and Coralie, in spite of his treatment of her? Of the lessons that Maureen taught Coralie, which were the most important?

4. What did you think of the love story between Eddie and Cora? Was it fate? Do you think they could have easily surpassed one another?

Feel free to answer any questions you like! Happy reading guys :D
Profile Image for Tara.
Author 22 books542 followers
August 27, 2014
This is my first Hoffman book. I had no interest in her earlier works, haven't yet read Dovekeepers (on my list), but was intrigued by this story. I'm from Long Island and grew up with Coney Island and its mythic shadow. So I'm coming at this reading as sort of a Hoffman virgin. And the book for me was well done enough that I enjoyed it and want to read Dovekeepers for sure.

What worked and didn't work? I guess from a fellow writer's pov, I know how hard it was for her to accomplish all she did. The research esp. into the landscape even more than the events was remarkable. When Eddie is wandering along the riverbanks and in the swamps, you hear the night birds and smell the flora and fauna. And for the most part, the prose flowed beautifully, and her descriptions of characters are unique (rabbi: He was an old man from Russia, who owned a single suit that he wore every day. There was sorrow in the seams of his clothes, but he was used to death. It seemed that life was a bolt of cloth to him, and he was there to fold it and set it in a drawer). But in some places the prose resorted to cliches, and I found some glitches in the editing where facts were repeated verbatim.

I think some on GR complained about the obvious plot. I don't think of that as a problem. Almost every book you pick up with a love story, you know where it's going, don't you? But I agree with some of the critiques that there was little to go on once the characters actually met. It felt as if the book was a set-up for this moment, and the moment was too far along and had to be cut down in an editing rush.

The final "letter" also seems to be too much of a convention, and without giving it away, it disappoints in its attempt to resolve one of the delightful mysteries I wish the author had left hanging, like the sparking embers that end the novel. I was thinking, how marvelous that this writer did not feel the need to tell us the answer to this one mystery, and then she sorta did...

However, I still delighted in this book and its mastery of lyrical language and its ambition and its compassion. And I loved the spotlight on this time of history.
Profile Image for Britany.
967 reviews417 followers
June 24, 2014
4.5 Stars! I really loved this book. The magic, the storytelling, the history, and the characters were spot on. At first, I didn't care for the constant Italic sections, but quickly got over that.

The chapters alternate between Coralie and Ed Cohen. Two broken individuals, each trapped in their respective lives, and needing each other to break free of the restrictions they've placed on themselves. The World is theirs...

Coralie, a child growing up with Professor Sardie in a house filled with oddities, The Butterfly girl, The old tortoise, Siamese twins, the wolfman, all individuals who are different, come together to fill this strange home/museum. Coralie herself becomes the mermaid, spending all day in a tank and dyed blue. She yearns to escape and see what lies beyond the small museum that she calls home.

Ed Cohen, a photographer, who has left all of his family, is a lone man living in a barn with his orphan pit-bull, Mitts. Eddie is a man broken by false disappointments, and is determined to solve the case of the missing girl from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. He resolves to get to the bottom of this tragedy and comes face to face with his past.

Both must overcome obstacles, and the biggest one being themselves to entwine their lives.

I just fell in love at about the halfway point and couldn't put this book down. It was a slower build for me (one reason I gave it 4 instead of 5) but once I got it, I couldn't let it go. I loved Hoffman's storytelling, the history of Coney Island in the year 1911. Interweaving the idea of carnivals and freak shows, museums, and including the infamous Triangle Factory Fire brought me to an emotional point. Hoffman brilliantly weaves together the impossible, all the while connecting you to characters who are destined to come together.
Profile Image for Melania 🍒.
540 reviews86 followers
September 1, 2019

My third read by Alice Hoffman unfortunately was a big miss. And when I’m thinking about how much I love her other books I’m even more disappointed.
I’m not sure exactly what went wrong for me. The strong romance element and the insta love are for sure at fault but really, everything else also felt really flat for me.
I couldn’t connect with the characters, the setting, which sounded so interesting, wasn’t used enough (or wasn’t used efficiently) and the resolution was So simplistic.
Alice Hoffman is still a favorite author but.... what happened here?
Profile Image for Siobhan.
4,491 reviews469 followers
December 13, 2016
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about The Museum of Extraordinary Things.

Before I started reading the book, I knew it was a book of mixed reviews: some loved it, whereas others hated it. What seemed to divide people was how they felt about The Night Circus. Whilst I personally enjoyed The Night Circus, I’m not crazy about it in the way many other people are. I believe this I why I fall more on the ‘dislike’ than the ‘like’ end of the spectrum when it comes to The Museum of Extraordinary Things. I do not hate this book, yet it is not the extraordinary read I had been expecting it to be.

This book is part historical fiction, part mystery, part romance, and part magical realism. Excluding the first, historical fiction, I do not feel as though any of the other three components were all they were chalked up to be. I felt as though they were either lacking or forced, making it difficult for me to truly enjoy the story in the way I had hoped to. I was interested enough to see how things finished – in fact, that’s the reason this book earned a three star rating rather than a two star rating, as I found I had to finish the book to see how things came to an end – but I wasn’t engaged in the way I had hoped to be. I cared a little, but I did not have any emotional attachment to the story: I just wanted to know how everything played out.

In regards to the historical fiction aspect, it was really well done. The world was brought to life around us, and it was very easy to imagine the setting and the events going on. Truthfully, I found this to be the strongest aspect of the story. I cannot fault the historical fiction side – unless you want to take in the lack of emotional impact regarding events. Certain events that played out didn’t hit me in quite the way I had expected them to, failing to pull upon my emotions in how I had hoped they would. Nevertheless, the historical components were the strongest part of the book.

When it comes to the mystery aspect, it was okay. It was nothing amazing; it was just there. When a dead body was introduced I expected there to be a lot more drama than there was, a lot more amateur detective work, but things seemed to be glossed over. Events played to link things together and yet there wasn’t much by way of action: we were told this and that happened, we knew information was found out, and yet there wasn’t much in the way of heart stopping action that I like to see with mystery storylines.

The romance was just… well, there. I really didn’t care for it. I didn’t feel anything for either of the main characters, and bringing them together did nothing for me. Their relationship lead to a couple of interesting moments, but as a whole I could have done without the romantic storyline. There was no real depth to it, nothing that I cared for.

The magical realism didn’t seem to be there at all, in my opinion. We had a ‘freak show’ cast of sorts, but I wouldn’t label that to be in the realm of magical realism. I would view that as being a reflection of beliefs during the time the story is set in. Then we have a fish that… well, it didn’t really count as magical realism in so much as it seemed to be a reason to add more words to the story. I’m sure many will find some deep significance for the fish, but I really didn’t understand what it actually added to the story.

Basically, I wasn’t overly impressed with this one. There were a handful of interesting moments, but other than that it was merely an okay read.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,376 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.