The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno: A Novel

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno: A Novel

by Ellen Bryson


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Bartholomew Fortuno, the World's Thinnest Man, believes that his unusual body is a gift. Hired by none other than P.T. Barnum to work at his spectacular American Museum—a modern marvel of macabre displays and live performances by Barnum's cast of freaks and oddities—Fortuno has reached the pinnacle of his career. But after a decade of solid performance, he finds his contentment flagging. When a carriage pulls up outside the Museum in the dead of night, bearing Barnum and a mysterious veiled woman—rumored to be a new performer—Fortuno's curiosity is piqued. And when Barnum asks Fortuno to follow her and report back on her whereabouts, his world is turned upsidedown. Why is Barnum so obsessed with this woman? Who is she, really? And why has she taken such a hold of the hearts of those around her?

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is a moving novelabout human appetites and longings. With pitch-perfect prose, Ellen Bryson explores what it means to be profoundly unique— and the power of love to transcend even the greatest divisions.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312577124
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 06/07/2011
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

ELLEN BRYSON holds a BA in English from Columbia University and an MA in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC. Formerly a modern dancer, she lives in Southern California. The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is her first novel.

Reading Group Guide

1. Bartholomew believes he has a gift in his natural thinness and self-control. What other gifts does he possess? How would you characterize him? How does his character change from the beginning of the novel to the end?

2. What kinds of hunger are stirred in this book? Which characters are driven to extremes by their desire and which choose to moderate themselves?

3. Bartholomew Fortuno asserts, "[Our] destiny insists we use our gifts to show others who they really are or show them what, in an ideal world, they could become. It may shock them at first, but, deep down, we open their eyes to greater possibilities." Iell argues, "I do not believe we educate our audiences. I believe we enlighten them and, in doing so, make them feel better about the dullness of their own lives. We don't open their eyes, Mr. Fortuno, we give them permission to keep them shut." Do you believe spectacles like Barnum's American Museum serve to open our eyes to new experiences, or to make us feel better about ourselves by comparison?

4. Before the answer is revealed, what did you suspect was Iell's secret?

5. When does Bartholomew's love for Iell twist from romantic to obsessive? At what moment did you realize he was an unreliable narrator?

6. Bridgett is a well-known Gaff, but her performance is so impressive that the other characters begin to forget her former life as a barmaid. Are there other characters who seem to be faking it? Do you believe Bartholomew is a Gaff?

7. What is the importance of the setting in this novel? Is there anything about historical New York City that surprised you—the smell, the streets, the layout?

8. When Iell sends Bartholomew off to the Chinaman, she says, "You're the only one I trust." Do you think this is sincere, or do you think she is taking advantage of his affections? Do you believe his feelings are ever reciprocated?

9. While Bartholomew longs to be home in the museum, other characters say they feel trapped inside. Does this serve as a place of protection or imprisonment? Are the characters creating a world of magic or a space to hide? What is the significance of the birds in this novel?

10. If you could travel back to the American Museum, which character would you most like to see Why?

11. You never get the chance to see a photograph of Barnum's "freaks" as you read Transformation, though the prose provides a vivid description of each. Do you think you would respond differently to this story as a film? Do you believe you listen to stories differently when you cannot see the subject's face? Were you tempted to look up Mathew Brady's photographs as you read the book, or did you wish to rely on your own imagination?

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The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 55 reviews.
karieh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book provided an interesting experience for me. I¿ve encountered, and thoroughly enjoyed, many books with unreliable narrators¿but ¿The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno¿ was presented instead by a rather oblivious narrator. The reader seems to know more about this sheltered and unique world that ¿The World¿s Thinnest Man¿ lives in. Maybe not from the start, but pretty early on¿once we have a chance to walk around in his shoes a bit.Part of this lack of vision on Bartholomew¿s part comes from the self-denial he¿s practiced most of his life. Denial of food, certainly, but denial of certain unappealing facts about himself and his life, and denial about how his actions affect his life. He is so caught up in himself, in his ¿gift¿, in his convincing himself that he is destined for greatness¿that he pays very little attention to events happening around him at P.T. Barnum¿s American Museum.In reading about this terrifyingly thin man, I vacillated between the world of New York right after the Civil War, and modern day. The setting of the book was well described, giving enough detail for the reader to envision a city trying to return to normalcy after a bloody war and the assassination of the president. But in Fortuno¿s musings about his body and his ¿gift¿, I kept flashing to modern day, into what seemed like thoughts taken straight from the minds of those suffering with anorexia. He finds great satisfaction in displaying himself to crowds of gawkers, in their wide eyes at his skeletal frame.¿I propped one foot up on the stool to show to show myself at a different angle, lovingly running my fingers down my rib cage.¿¿ ¿Do you see how my heart beats? And how my stomach waits for me to fill it? When you look at me, can¿t you understand yourself a bit better?¿ I made fleeting eye contact with the silent faces in front of me. ¿The only difference between us is that I do not hide my inner self.¿¿ ¿But a few stayed silent. One or two sat with their heads hanging down, the smoke-filled air encircling them as their feet shuffled against the floor. Those were the ones that mattered to me. The ones I taught.¿The end of the book came as no great surprise, except to Bartholomew. Eventually, a great deal is revealed to him about his world, his past, and what he really wants for his future. I wouldn¿t go so far as to say that he was a very sympathetic character, but I was glad when he finally looked around with clear eyes.This was a lush story, combining history and fiction in rich tapestry of sepia toned events populated by larger than life characters.
Twink on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is Ellen Bryson's debut novel. Bartholomew Fortuno works for showman P. T. Barnum at his American Museum in New York in 1865. He is billed as the world's thinnest man. He lives and works alongside a host of other 'Curiosities', including a rubber man, a strong man, Marina the fat woman, with whom he shares a close friendship and many more. Bartholomew is content with his life and sharing what he calls 'his gift' with the paying public. To Marina he says;"We teach the world. You know how I feel about this. Nothing in the world comes close to our artistry. To manifest ideals through the body! Your abundance. Alley's strength. My clarity. Why, it's as godlike as one can become.""There is but one thing certain. No matter when we've received our gifts, we've all been blessed. Our uniqueness alone is enough to justify our special place in the world. But even more, our destiny insists we use our gifts the show others who they really are or show them what, in an ideal world , they could become. It may shock them at first, but, deep down, we open their eyes to greater possibilities."Bartholomew's ordered life and the family atmosphere of the Museum (the attractions live there as well) are thrown into disarray by the arrival of a mysterious new Curiosity. Barty catches a glimpse of her, but Barnum seems determined to keep her separated from the others. That little glimpse is enough to enthrall Bartholomew. His interactions with the mysterious Iell challenge his beliefs."Now here I would disagree. I do not believe we educate our audiences. I believe we frighten them and, in doing so, make them feel better about the dullness of their own lives. We don't open their eyes, Mr. Fortuno, we give them permission to keep them shut...Are we not the nightmare? The gargoyles at the edge of their world?"Bryson has taken a fascinating piece of history and brought it to life. We've all had a glimpse of 'curiosities', both past and present. But Bryson brings a sense of humanity to the inhabitants of the Museum. Rather than being an exhibit, they come to life, infused with feelings, emotions, needs and wants. I liked Bartholomew very much as a character. His prim, proper ways, tempered with his burgeoning desire for more endeared him to me. Fleeting references to his past and his 'gift' heighten our desire to know more and serve to fuel his own enlightenment. Bartholomew's transformation - his journey to step outside the carefully chosen confines he lives in is an emotionally charged story that kept me enthralled from first page to last. Those looking for a fast paced read will not find it here. Rather, the speed of the book matches Bartholomew's emerging edification.An impressive debut. I look forward to reading what Bryson next sets her pen to. Fans of Sara Gruen would enjoy this novel
Bookmarque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An intriguing story with a lot of layers and subtlety. Bartholomew Fortuno is a romantic screw-up with delusions of grandeur. The world he inhabits is full of unusual bodies and talents and he falls somewhere near the top in hierarchy, declaring that he is not a gaff (a self-made freak, not a true Prodigy at all). He believes his extreme thinness is a gift to humanity designed to show us our real selves; to enlighten humanity (little does he know that his gift will end up enlightening himself most of all). This makes him proud and arrogant, but he keeps it hidden much of the time as he dislikes confrontation. Still, he considers himself a cut above the rest of the freaks he works with. Despite this belief he has very little control of his life and completely surrenders to the mighty personality of P.T. Barnum. Under threat of being fired from the museum where he and the other freaks lead pretty decent lives as compared to other venues many freaks are reduced to, he does a few errands on the side for Barnum. These errands are for the new act, one Iell; a bearded lady of extreme mystique and elegance. Soon he¿s put between the wills of Mr. and Mrs. Barnum and has to figure out where his loyalties lie; with his employer, with his friend Martina or with his new love, Iell. All the while he muses over how and when his gift came upon him; from his mother. She looms large in his psyche and he thinks of her often. I was a bit disappointed at this cliché, I mean, does it always have to be mom¿s fault? It is she who counseled him to be diligent and control his urges for a man who has no self-control is not a man at all. From this wisdom he divines that food is an excess not to be indulged. But from controlling woman to controlling masters doesn¿t a free thinker make. Deluded with his own importance he has no idea how his actions affect other people and he continually does and says the wrong things. Like a child he later tries to make up for these mistakes in simplistic ways. Again and again he is forgiven. I won¿t give the ending away but I saw it coming. Iell isn¿t that mysterious to a person with a jaded eye who has lived through the latter half of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. Both in her form and in the secret little packages Bartholomew delivers to her from a dingy shop in Chinatown. That it takes Bartholomew so long to actually find out is part of what kept me going. The plot isn¿t a mover or a shaker, but the characters were interesting and the setting as well. Bryson has an excellent turn of phrase and I didn¿t get distracted by awkward language or botched sentences. A lot of people¿s reviews seem to want Bartholomew to be more human, but I¿m not sure that¿s realistic given his distance from humanity. As a freak and a performer he has separated himself from normal human discourse and so doesn¿t know how to behave. He has molded his personality on the belief he¿s something greater than a mere normal human and so acts accordingly and is very naive as a result. It was pretty clear from the outset that his transformation would be something major and it was, both spiritually and physically. It took place slowly and in a realistic fashion; Bartholomew fought it part of the way, then little by little gave in and allowed the changes. I like to think that with his new-found insight that he felt at home in the world outside the museum.There are a lot of supporting characters and I loved how Bryson treated them; not lightly. Each one was distinct and not a caricature, especially Matina, Barnum and Iell. Their inner humanity came through and contrasted well with Bartholomew¿s awkwardness. The city and museum were almost characters themselves so vivid, but not overdone, were the descriptions. I especially liked the aviary. I look forward to Bryson¿s next book.
the_awesome_opossum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bartholomew Fortuno is the world's thinnest man, employed by PT Barnum as a part of his extravagant freakshow. Bartholomew is erudite and gentlemanly, a philosopher-scholar who understands his own function as getting people to confront their own material nature. Instead, of course, audiences dismiss his philosophizing and look upon him as the spectacle he has been employed to be.The label of 'freak' is of course loaded with societal assumptions, and freakshows should therefore challenge values and norms by standing in such stark opposition to whatever might be considered normal. And that is Bartholomew's sentiment at first: "the whole point of Curiosities is to blur the line between reason and faith. Darwin and Linnaeus both have their place, but we represent soemthing beyond evolution. Something mythical." Yet what sort of self-identity is fostered when Bartholomew has found his own place in society to be 'something mythical'? This instability and isolation, doubled up with his insubstantial physicality, suggests a self-alienation that presses down upon Bartholomew increasingly throughout the novel. The circus performers express an elitism about 'Gaffs' - self-made freaks who are more or less hoaxes - but Bartholomew expresses more and more longing for a place to fit in, that perhaps his freakishness may be undone and he can rejoin "the real world." Yet, having lived with circuses since he was a young boy, who would he be without them?The book follows Bartholomew as he becomes caught between two women: the familiar friend and the alluring unknown, a parallel dilemma to his identity crisis. Yet normality is not a binary but an entire spectrum; as the reader gets to know each of the performers their physical abnormalities simply get absorbed as part of their character. So must Bartholomew's question of self-identity be approached, not as a spectacle but something complex. This was a fun piece of historical fiction, that was really engaging and struck a great note between historical with a modern-sort pitch. The book (like all books that end up being about "identity") was far more character-driven than plot-driven, and that's awesome because all of the characters are fun and really well-drawn. With Bartholomew as our humble and well-spoken narrator, we learn about him at about the same pace as he figures himself out, and it was really great fun to have done so.
tammathau on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good story about the "Bone Man" at Barnum's Freak Show around the time of the death of Lincoln. This was a quick read and I quickly got sucked into the story line.
emlzcole on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting book with some interesting history about the world of Barnum wrapped around a story of change.
SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So many first novels read like autobiographical fantasies that I am still somewhat surprised when I read one that takes completely the opposite approach, as Ellen Bryson has done in "The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno." Bryson sets her debut novel in a New York City still reeling from Abraham Lincoln's assassination - interesting enough a time, in itself - but she takes it all a giant step farther by choosing as her main characters some of the human oddities who worked and lived in P.T. Barnum's American Museum at the time. Bryson then proceeds to tell a rather sweet love story involving "the world's thinnest man" and Matina, Barnum's resident "fat lady." Things, however, do not remain sweet for long. Barnum, always on the lookout for new talent he can add to his cast of human curiosities, inadvertently stirs the pot when he brings Iell, a bearded lady, into the company. That she arrives at the museum late at night, only to be quickly spirited away by Barnum, lends Iell an immediate air of mystery. That mystery is compounded when Barnum's assistant informs the museum residents that, not only are they not to speak to the woman or seek her out, they are also forbidden to attend any of her museum performances. The Rubber Man, the Giantess, the Strong Man, the Fat Lady and others view the mystery as a challenge to see which of them can be the first to solve it. Bartholomew, though, becomes infatuated with the new performer as soon as he sees her picture on one of the museum's oversized advertising posters. Thus, begins Barthy's transformation, from a man proud of his status as an elite human oddity, into a man completely consumed by desire for a woman to whom he has been forbidden even to speak. But by the time the mystery of Iell is resolved, Barthy will have changed in more ways than one. Ellen Bryson does a remarkable job of penetrating the screen behind which P.T. Barnum's human curiosities hide themselves from the rest of the world, even to revealing the personal pride the performers take in having reached the top of their profession by meriting inclusion in Barnum's famous museum. But, long as it is on atmosphere and character development (which, alone, makes the novel worth reading), "The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno" is a bit short on plot. While the mysteries concerning Iell, and Barnum's fascination with the woman, are worth solving, it does take a long time to get to that point and, before that happens, the reader will perhaps grow weary of the repetitiveness of everyday life in the museum. Still, this is an unusual first novel, one that will especially appeal to fans of gritty historical fiction. If this is you, you will do well to give "The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno" a chance.Rated at: 3.0
elbakerone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
P.T. Barnum's 1865 American Museum, a display of human curiosities, serves as the stage for Ellen Bryson's novel The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno. The titular character is a gentleman billed as the Wolrd's Thinnest Man, and the story centers on him and his fellow performers Matina, the overweight woman; Alley, the strong man; and newcomer Iell Adams, the mysterious bearded lady.This book is an interesting character drama as well as a richly detailed historical fiction. The story is about people's perceptions and self-truths, and as the title suggests, it is a novel about Bartholomew's personal transformation. Though he's always considered his thinness as a gift, the uniqueness of his talent and the specialness of all the performers is called into question in his mind.Bryson weaves an intricate and interesting tale. Bartholomew's back story was reveled slowly in pieces throughout the book and it was an artful way to unveil his character. I also enjoyed how fact blended with fiction and actual events were woven into the narrative. For those that enjoy historical fiction of this time period or those interested in the cast and characters of Barnum's American Museum, The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is definitely a great book to read.
actonbell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
P.T. Barnum's American Museum in New York City during the period just after the Civil War and President Lincoln's assassination is the setting of this first novel by Ellen Bryson. Barnum has hired a menagerie of what he calls human curiosities, including Emma, a giant, Alley, the strongman, Ricardo The Man of Rubber, the clownish and deformed Zippy, Matina The Fat Lady, and the protagonist Bartholomew Fortuno, The World's Thinnest Man. All of these people feel lucky to be housed in this museum, having been mistreated by various circus owners.When we first meet Bartholomew or "Barthy," as his close friend Matina calls him, he sees himself as one who was born with a special gift. He's a self-proclaimed prodigy with something to teach others and has the power to make others think about their own humanity. His life evolves around the museum and he shows no interest in moving around in the outside world. In fact, Bartholomew hates stepping outside the museum's confines and feels privileged to be in such rare company. In Bartholomew's mind, there are true prodiges and then there are gaffs, or people who are not really gifted, but just tricksters.But then, one night, Bartholomew witnesses the arrival of a new, mysterious woman. She is under the cover of a veil and clearly being sheltered and hidden by Barnum. Bartholomew is fascinated and determined to find out more about Barnum's new acquisition.It doesn't take long for Bartholomew to encounter this woman, Iell Adams, a woman with a beautiful figure and a thick, flowing, luxurious beard. And it doesn't take long for him to fall in love with her. Though Bartholomew had always seen himself as the thought-provoker, it is Iell who forces him to take a different look at himself. Does he really need to be in a museum, is he really meant to be a curiosity? Completely smitten with Iell, he agrees to run an errand for her, despite his fear and hatred of the outside world. This errand takes him to a Chinese herbalist, who hands him a package for Iell and then insists that he take something for himself as well, a strange-looking root. At first, Bartholomew is repulsed by this gift, but something, perhaps curiosity, compels him to take a bite. The herbalist had told him that it would bring out his true self, and it does have an immediate effect on him. Bartholomew begins to dream of leaving the museum and taking the lovely Iell with him. After all, she has pointed out to him that he has actually chosen to live as a curiosity and he has found this to be true; his appetitie has returned. So, he thinks, why can't Iell simply find a good barber and leave, herself? But Alas, Iell's situation is more complicated. She has a secret, something she doesn't willingly share with Bartholovew, but when he finds out what it is, he suddenly sees the difference between them. Bartholomew's thinness was caused by an emotional reaction to something in his past that he is finally overcoming. Iell can change nothing. At this point, he realizes two things: that he is the gaff, and that he cannot help Iell, nor does she want him to. If this story had ended badly for Bartholomew, I might draw parallels to the Garden of Eden story, but in this tale, a young man partakes of the obscure root, comes to see things as they really are, and it's a good thing. He's been living like a caged animal and being treated like a child. It's time to come to terms with the past, grow up, and move on. And he does, Bartholomew takes himself, his bird, and his savings, and he walks out of that museum, forever.This story was a very engaging read and the characters who peopled Barnum's museum were well-drawn and sympathetic. The Barnums, Phineas and his wife, were presented as a strange, dueling couple who could both be ruthless business people. There may be many novels about the blossoming of people's lives, but this one is novel. I think most of us can't help but to be a little curious about the people whose livelihoods involved being regar
wingsandfins on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not the most dreadful book on freakery that I have found, which is indeed saying something. The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno will not be as offensive to delicacy or to disability activists as Geek Love; however, it is not as well-written as that novel, either, and doesn't really hold the atttention. The main character, a Skeleton Man, is something of a prig, which kind of character is usually my favorite. The writing is too arduous, though. With every small detail gone into and every twist and turn described, I as a reader began to wonder when the book was going to hit its stride. It never did, at least for me. With that said, I think the book capably evoked 19th century New York and the Barnum curiosities factory (indeed, it was so historically accurate at times that I began to suspect that Bryson felt the need to include all of the research she had done). The characters are interesting, and are not written in an offensive way, especially when you consider other "freak" narratives. (I will say, however, that the book seemed to be written by someone able-bodied. I have no idea, but that's how it smacked to me.) Overall, a decent read, but I would be inclined to get it from the library, not purchase it.
dancingstarfish on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Our uniqueness alone is enough to justify our special place in the world. But even more, our destiny insists we use our gifts to show others who they really are or show them what, in an ideal world, they could become. It may shock them at first, but deep down, we open their eyes to greater possibilities.¿-The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno: A NovelAn interesting read which is mostly a story between the thinnest man in the world (or so Barnum claims) and the fattest woman who is his friend. Into their quiet daily routine at the Barnum museum we go. We watch as they put themselves on display for crowds and live their lives within the confines of the museums walls. They all live there together, the strong man, the thin man, the fat lady, the missing link, the giantess and more. Then in comes a new act. The new act entrances Bartholomew and in his mindless (seriously, mindless) pursuit of her he discovers his own secret.Not an amazing book (the author sure does love her adjectives and the plot was a tad predictable) but an enjoyable one nevertheless. If you need a little break from reality, I suggest you may like to go visit the world of Ellen Bryson¿s human curiousities.
Carmenere on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ladies and gentlemen step right up and see the thinnest man in the world. See Bartholomew Fortuno prance and preen on stage at Barnum¿s American Museum in post Civil War New York City. See him as he opens the eyes of the curious spectators who see his show. He will mesmerize them; he will make them reflect inwardly as he bestows philosophical ditties upon them. See him as he awakens to the facts regarding his self proclaimed gift. He will transform right before your eyes. Step right up here and also see Martina, the fat lady, strongman Alley and the newest addition who makes the Curiosities curious, Eill the bearded woman.As first novels go, I wouldn¿t consider this a bad one for it begins rather well and the subject matter is, indeed, intriguing. Mysteries emerge and keep the reader attentive however, the somewhat predictable resolutions are slow to fruition and I found myself skimming the final chapters just to have my suspicions confirmed. In the end, just alot of smoke and mirrors to disquise the truths.
ForSix on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was excited to read this book because it was compared to Water for Elephants. Truth be told, I can¿t really understand the comparison other than an unusual cast of characters.This story takes place in New York City, circa 1865 at the American Museum. (I love the reference to farmland where Central Park now stands. Pretty groovy. Wish I could have been there.) The main character is Bartholomew Fortuno, the Thin Man at Barnum¿s museum. He believes his thinness is a gift and he lives to share this gift with others. He lives in the relative comfort of the museum, away from the watchful stares of ¿average¿ folks who judge him for his uniqueness. He appears to be perfectly content and happy with his life. I think the opening scene tells a different story. He¿s sitting at his window looking out at the world as if the world around him was a fishbowl and he was looking in. He distanced himself from, and well frankly thought he was too good for it. He has friends, especially Matina the Fat Lady. I adored Matina, she¿s fabulous, classy. They got along so well because ¿Barthy¿ felt as entitled as she did. The mystery revolves around the arrival of the newest act, Iell. Almost everyone is intrigued by her, but none as much as Bartholomew and I have to admit me too.I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it spoke of outsiders, people who barely fit in among themselves, let alone outside of the comfort and protection of the museum. These are people who either knew no other life or were too afraid to try something different. Whose fear paralyzed them into living a life that was awe inspiring to some and disgusted by others. People who were laughed at and made fun of for just being. Not all Curiosities thought it was curse, Bartholomew sure didn¿t. He saw it as a blessing, a uniqueness that no one else had. On a whole I think the Curiosities did the best with what was handed to them. They may have played the cards they were dealt, but make no mistake, some thought it just wasn¿t enough.I thought the author did a great job of giving the characters of Bartholomew, Matina, Alley and Iell depth and believability. It was a real page turned for me. From the beginning, I was rooting for Bartholomew and Matina for very different reasons. I hoped Bartholomew would push himself out of this seemingly perfect world he created for himself and Matina well, because she¿s the big girl. What can I say? I have a soft spot for big girls. It was especially interesting for me to see Bartholomew and Alley evolve and mature. Alley wasn¿t who I thought he was at all. And Iell the intriguing one? Well once the mystery was out I saw her for exactly who she was, and my opinion of her changed dramatically. Still, I would love to sit down for a cup of tea with her so I can ask her why.My favorite part of the book was a quote by Matina. She says, ¿I simply want to remind him that we succeed by being brave, not by letting our problems overwhelm us.¿ I think she sums it up nicely. This book was about bravery, about taking a chance on the unknown. It was about letting go of that fear and going for what you want in earnest no matter what.I loved the time I spent with these Curiosities and I look forward to whom Ms. Bryson introduces us to next.
jasonpettus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)An engaging literary hybrid -- partly a historical melodrama, partly a Victorian thriller with lightly steampunkish touches -- Ellen Bryson's debut novel The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno takes place within the real world of P.T. Barnum's American Museum, the bizarre space in lower Manhattan in the 1850s and '60s where the infamous showman first made a name for himself, long before the formation of his later traveling circus. And indeed, this is probably the best-known thing about this novel, that it's a mystery set among the sideshow freaks that used to permanently live on the premises, weaving together fictional characters (like our titular thin man and the bearded beauty with whom he becomes obsessed) with such real people as Tom Thumb and Barnum himself, and getting all the details of the space correct down to a scholarly level. As such, then, Bryson essentially turns in a morality tale couched in deep symbolism, but with enough quirky elements to keep any fan of Victoriana happy -- by the time we're done, we've covered everything from opium addiction to mysterious Chinatown herbalists, Abraham Lincoln's funeral, and more hansom cab rides than you can shake a brass-capped walking stick at -- delivering by the end what is ultimately a mainstream story but with a lot of genre flourishes, a combination that I myself really enjoyed but that is absolutely not going to be everyone's cup of tea. A funny, smart and fast read, I suspect that those who will love this novel already know who they are, and it is to these people that I most recommend this title.Out of 10: 8.6
JessMcKenzie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a colorful read! Taking place shortly after the assassination of President Lincoln Bartholomew takes a position in the Barnum's American Museum protecting Iell, the bearded woman until she can be revealed to the world. A mix of their friendship, her secret and The ugly war created by the Barnum family leads to Bartholomew to change as a person and discover himself. Ellen Byrson has a way of getting the reader to develop a personal relationship with her characters by sharing their stories. The entire cast helps bring this novel full circle and leave little loose ends untied.
picardyrose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I guessed all the Big Secrets.
readingrat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A unique take on a fabulous subject.
Kasthu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set in New York City in 1865, The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is set amongst PT Barnum¿s Museum of Human Curiosities. The story is narrated by Bartholomew Fortuno, the Museum¿s Thin Man, who notices a strange woman entering the Museum late one night. His curiosity leads to an assignment from Barnum, who asks Bartholomew to shadow the mysterious woman.It¿s a good premise, and I enjoyed the setting of the novel: I love reading novels set in historical New York, But the author¿s writing style is uneven; sometime¿s she¿s erudite about the nature of Human Curiosities and their relationship with the rest of the world, but sometimes the writing is clunky (¿Abigail something or another,¿ I said, remember only the poor girl¿s first name¿). There¿s a heavy amount of foreshadowing in this novel, so much so that the author practically told you in advance what was going to happen. There are so many references to how thin Bartholomew is that it got really old really quickly.In addition, although the book is a quick read, the plot moves at a snail¿s pace, leading me to lose interest at several points in the narrative. The author sets the mystery up well, but this book wasn¿t all that suspenseful for me once I¿d figured out who the mysterious woman was. The book is punctuated by fake notices which are a clever way of telling the reader how much time has passed, but these too became tiresome after a while because they hampered the flow of the story for me.As I read, I found that I couldn¿t quite connect to the characters in the way I wanted to. Bartholomew¿s obsession with the strange woman wasn¿t all that believable to me. I agree with another reviewer that his relationship with her seemed downright weird; I just didn¿t see what drew them together. Unfortunately, this isn't a book I'd recommend.
Cailin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno follows a group of characters working for PT Barnum just after the end of the Civil War. I found the information about The American Museum and New York at that time to be very interesting. The book is somewhat short on plot but not at all short on description and interesting characters. The main character, Bartholomew Fortuno - The Thin Man believes he is educating and transforming his audience rather than shocking and awing them. He is infatuated with Iell Adams, a bearded lady with secrets of her own. A good book with lots of background about the circus and PT Barnum.
vkb1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the one book I have picked up lately someone did not recommend, and I was not disappointed. The world of P.T. Barnum depicted here enveloped me. I saw the circus world through fresh eyes, and though I did not get attached to the protagonist, I marveled at his transformation.
woodsathome on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What an odd little book. Quaint with something of an old-fashioned feel, perhaps deriving from the time period the book is set in.The action, such as it is, takes place in the days following Lincoln's assassination at PT Barnum's Museum (a precursor to the circus) and revolves around the arrival of if Iell the Museum's latest curiosity.Action seems almost too strong of a word, as this is very much a character driven novel. Any actual plot developments seem vague and inconsequential. I believe this is an intentional decision on the author's part, however, and not necessarily a weakness.I enjoyed this novel, but it is not something I would recommend for everyone. As I said the plot is secondary to character development and I think many readers will find it slow and sleepy ( I did in parts). However, if you are a fan of atmospheric novels, I think you will find this enjoyable - ultimately I did.
CarolynSchroeder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very strange little novel and not in a good way. While certainly a quick and easy read (very simply written, with much dialogue, read it in a couple of days), I simply felt the main character, Bartholomew Fortuno, was incredibly hard to believe, in heart, conflict and such a profound lacking of substance ~ very contrived feeling. It felt very much like the author tackled a subject she knew little of from the inside and took a guess at how "The Curiousities" would feel. It did not ever work for me, so both Bartholomew and the supporting cast felt very flat and false. I especially felt no connection with the mysterious newcomer to the museum, Ms. Iell Adams, who harbors a surprise of sorts, but one the reader guesses from her inception into the story. The plot played out in a very dull way, so the last quarter of the book was kind of a chore. The ending was just goofy. That said, I liked the small glimpses of history, life around the time of Lincoln's assasination, the Barnum Museum, New York City, etc. But it was not enough to carry the weak parts of the book. I do think this author had potential and would give her another go, I just did not care for this book and cannot think of who I would recommend it to.
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There¿s a sucker born every minute¿Oh, those marketing guys over at Henry Holt & Co. are good! They did a great job of capturing my interest in Ellen Bryson¿s debut novel The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno (TToBF) by comparing it to two beloved books, Geek Love and Water for Elephants. And I can¿t even complain that the comparisons aren¿t apt. Like Geek Love, TToBF is the story of¿ well, some ¿human curiosities.¿ Bartholomew Fortuno is an employee (performer? exhibit?) in P.T. Barnum¿s American Museum in New York as the Civil War is winding down. He is billed as ¿the world¿s thinnest man,¿ and he just may be. His best friend is, of course, Matina, the fat lady. Like the characters in Geek Love, Fortuno views their differences as ¿gifts.¿ While TToBF does share a bit of Geek Love¿s darkness, that¿s where any similarity ends. What¿re missing are the black humor, the wonderful satire, the knock-out prose, and the pure weirdness of Dunn¿s brilliant novel.Like Water for Elephants, TToBF is a period novel¿albeit one set 70 years earlier¿with a male first-person narrator. And while these performers don¿t work for a circus (Barnum wasn¿t in the biz yet) some of the trappings and much of the hokum are the same. Unfortunately, Ellen Bryson can¿t (yet) hold a candle to Sara Gruen as a story-teller. Any comparison only serves to highlight TToBF¿s inadequacies in terms of character, of pacing, and of narrative substance. The catalyst of this tale occurs in the opening pages. Unable to sleep, Fortuno happens to be looking out the window late one night just in time to observe Barnum¿s unexpected return with a mysterious veiled woman. Eventually she is revealed to be a new curiosity, Iell Adams, a bearded lady. From that first glance, Fortuno¿s obsession with this woman grows exponentially and inexplicably, putting what had been an odd but orderly life into turmoil. There are all sorts of allegiances, agendas, and intrigues within the insular museum community that get set into motion. Reading over what I just wrote, this still sounds like a pretty interesting book¿and it wasn¿t terrible¿but neither was it good. Let¿s start with Fortuno. We spend the entire novel inside his head, and the two words that come to mind to describe him are: prissy and neurotic. These are not attractive qualities, but he fits in well with his colleagues; there wasn¿t a single character in this book that I found to be likeable. Given that, it¿s awfully hard to care what happens to them. Take Fortuno¿s pursuit of Iell, for example. Eventually he proclaims himself to be in love. If that¿s love, well, yuck. Just¿ yuck.There are small intrigues that propel the story, but they were thin material to keep a novel going. Given the fascinating setting, it was all surprisingly boring. The pace felt glacial, and when the ¿big reveals¿ finally came, I could not have been less surprised.¿It¿s not terrible¿ is faint praise indeed. My advice is go read Water for Elephants or Geek Love. You¿ll be better off.
amandacb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bryson¿s The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno does indeed, as some previous reviewers have pointed out, move slower than the glossy airport paperbacks of the likes of John Grisham and Stephen King (well, maybe not the tomes of Stephen King). However, for those who enjoy a thorough and well-developed novel, there is plenty of plot to go around.We meet Bartholomew Fortuno, an oddity hired to display himself in P.T. Barnum¿s American Museum. What is most fascinating, to me, is the depth in which Bryson delves into Bartholomew¿s co-workers (and friends, and sometimes lovers): the fat woman, the bearded lady, the giant, so forth. However, these people are not just fat, or bearded, or giant¿they are so much more. Bryson brings an entirely new level of humanity to what for many are simply ¿freaks.¿ Bartholomew himself is a philosopher¿he chides anyone who dismisses their work as entertainment, instead stating that he is there to bring a new echelon of enlightenment to the audience. He himself views his skeletal body as a gift, and to display his body to others is to bestow a precious gift unto the world.Yet, when he meets Iell, his world shifts and he must now grapple with emotions heretofore unencountered. Yes, he is a precious gift, but can he sacrifice that gift in order to please someone he loves? As he states: ¿If I lost control of my appetites, I would lose what made me special¿ (270). This tension is what makes the story so engrossing. The ending, I thought, was a bit of a letdown¿appropriate, yes, but I do admit to wanting more for Bartholomew, probably because Bryson had me so invested in him.
kmaziarz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bartholomew Fortuno, the Living Skeleton, thinks of himself and his fellow freak-show members as Prodigies whose purpose in life is to educate normal people about the moral and physical limits of humanity. Not everyone else feels that way, however, including many of the other Prodigies who, like Bartholomew, are currently lodged in and employed by P.T. Barnum¿s American Museum of curiosities and wonders. His dearest friend, Matina, the Museum¿s resident Fat Lady, thinks he should relax a bit. When a mysterious new act arrives at the Museum late one night, however, Bartholomew is entranced. The woman¿beautiful, elegant, refined, and sporting a full and luxurious beard¿becomes his new obsession. When the unscrupulous Barnum, who is also obsessed with Iell the bearded woman, discovers Bartholomew¿s interest, he begins sending the near-skeletal man out on errands to a Chinese herbalist to pick up mysterious packages for Iell. While there, the herbalist, as shocked by Bartholomew¿s skinny form as most, gives a strange root to him, telling Bartholomew that it will reveal his true self. At first reluctant to eat the odd thing, Bartholomew finds himself more and more drawn to it, desiring a change in himself that will make him worthy of the lovely and bizarre Iell. Meanwhile, Barnum¿s wife has designs of her own on both Iell and Bartholomew, and the internal politics of the Prodigies become more and more complicated by the day. Slightly short on action, though heavy on atmosphere, ¿The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno¿ offers a glimpse into a world seldom seen by any but the freak show performers themselves. Bartholomew himself is an engaging character, though certain revelations about his past come off a slightly cliched, and his reaction to Iell is slightly unrealistically portrayed. But all in all, this is an enjoyable and unique story.