Friday, 18 April 2014 10:10

16.4.2014 - great new review of The Palace of Curiosities

Authors Writing on Books
The Palace of Curiosities – reviewed by Max Scratchmann

Much as I want to like all of these books, there are, I'm afraid, a lot of fairly dull bodice-rippers and penny-dreadfuls lurking beneath the stunning cover art on the slew of mock-Victorian novels currently on the market, so it was with great joy that I discovered Rosie Garland's noir tale of life in a nineteenth-century freak show – The Palace of Curiosities.

Enticed by the gothic delicacy of cover art and then seduced by the Angela Carter comparison from Jenny Murray on the flyleaf, I delved into this novel with a mixture of anticipation and cautious scepticism – treating the alluring enticements to enter as nothing more than the world-weary siren call of an over zealous marketing man. But, miraculously, I was not disappointed this time, and though the wonderful Ms Garland, in fact, bears little resemblance to Angela Carter – she's far too original a voice to be a copy of anybody – The Palace of Curiosities is a dark and evocative exploration of the underbelly of Victorian society and a magic-realist journey through the fair grounds and freak shows that so fascinate this reviewer as a visual artist.

The novel follows the converging path of two outsiders, Eve the Lion Girl and Abel the Flayed Man – also known as Mr Lazarus – and takes us on an atmospheric journey that veers in and out of the (believable) supernatural and even manages a happy ending without ever once delving into sentimentality or sugary cliché. The writing is rich and verging on the poetic, and the characters are well-rounded and believable – Eve's story being particularly strong with a heady erotic undercurrent running throughout.

I very seldom resort to overblown kill-to-obtain-this-book soundbites, but this novel is a definite must-read. Highly recommended.

Max Scratchmann

Book: THE PALACE OF CURIOSITIES

Author: Rosie Garland

Publisher: HarperCollins

Click to go to Steve Savage's review site