Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Swan Gondola

The Swan Gondola
The Swan Gondola

Timothy Schaffert

   This book started off really well, with main character, ventriloquist, Ferret, falling from the sky in a stolen hot air balloon, crashing into the farm owned by the Old Sisters Egan, to whom he tells the tale of how he got there.
   Unfortunatly, like Ferrets balloon, the book plummets quickly.

   The main problem with the book is the central romance that lies at the heart of it. It’s simply not interesting. Ferret’s love for the glamorous Cecily is love at first sight (always a bad sign), when he meets her backstage at a play. He bumps into her again when he sneaks into the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair and their relationship goes on from there.
   Cecily herself resists Ferret for a little while, but not too long. For Cecily it’s more like love at fourth sight…

   Sadly, despite the four hundred pages dedicated to it, the relationship still feels incredibly underdeveloped. Both Ferret and Cecily are boring characters from the off and remain so throughout. It’s hard to see what anyone finds interesting about Cecily, the only character trait she seems to have throughout the whole novel is that she dresses unusually. But even that wears thin quickly when the writer constantly breaks the narrative to tell us what she’s wearing. Cecily has dresses decorated with paper butterflies, flowers, lace, swans, insects….that’s all she has to offer.

   It wouldn’t have been so bad perhaps if there was something else going on in the book but sadly it’s not the case. There are a host of other characters, the Cross dressing August, the anarchist Rosie, the mysterious old woman Mrs Margaret, who disguises herself as a dummy and the villainous, one handed, Mayfield.
   All of these characters are great, I’d happily read a whole novel about any one of them, here though, they’re unforgivably underused. They do nothing but put in the occasional line of dialogue, almost always about the relationship between Ferret and Cecily.
   There’s a sort of subplot involving the anarchists planning to assassinate President McKinley but it comes to nothing, as do the constant allusions to the Wizard of Oz which the author admits are only there because he’d recently read the book.

   One thing the book gets right is it’s depiction of the Fair itself. Based on the 1898 Trans-Mississippi & International Exhibition, the worlds fair is a town sized collection of shows, scientific advancements, cultural exports, music, street performers, trinkets, parties, occult curiosities and gambling.
   It’s at once exciting, mysterious, dangerous and intriguing, a character all to itself. I wanted to crawl into the book and experience all the wonders it had to offer for myself.
   Unfortunately, like the rest of the characters, far too often it felt like the interesting thing was in the background and I was glancing around the main characters to see the good stuff.

   I wanted very much to like this book, but with a bland love story that drags on too long and still feels underdeveloped and hints of great things that sadly remained undelivered, I was very disappointed. 

Timothy Schaffert
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I received this book for review through GoodReads FirstReads

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