The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, By Ellen Bryson

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The Independent Culture

Bartholomew Fortuno is a "Human Skeleton" in P T Barnum's famous museum in 1860s New York City. His enemy is Ricardo the Rubber Man; he socialises with Alley the Strongman; his world changes when a new star enters the museum: the Bearded Lady with whom he rapidly falls in love. Barthy has a kind of deluded dignity, believing that his "gift" educates the masses who gawp and laugh at him – his dedication to an illusory ideal recalls Stevens the butler in Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. Ellen Bryson's debut novel is rich in both pathos and humour. It's a somewhat slow-moving story, perhaps, but engaging, colourful, and a convincing evocation of the ferment of American society after the Civil War.