“Church of Marvels” by Leslie Parry
(First publication: 2015 / This edition: Two Roads Books 2015)
taken during brunch with Mom at Karmakamet
This, she told me, is your mark on the world. This is the story that you tell.
I tell myself and others that I’m not really into mysteries and adventure books. But after reading a short summary of this one a few months back, I immediately pre-ordered it on Book Depository about 2 months before it got published—and then there was some delay, so despite PRE-ordering, it still took a long time to get to me. Impatient, impatient, impatient. Rant, rant, rant.
I didn’t really know what to expect—maybe something fantasy-land, circus-y vibes, etc.
It definitely has a “circus-y vibe”, but it’s set in New York in 1895—not very “fantasy-land”, and is pretty disturbing and grimy from the descriptions. Imagine Cirque du Soleil, but off-stage, in the streets and sometimes in mental asylums. Kinda. (I tried.)
It’s evident that the author had thought out all the details for the characters, and reading, you understand the comings and goings of each character. You get their perspectives and personalities, so you think you can anticipate their thoughts and actions.
You think you can…but you can’t.
That’s why it’s so exciting.
It was thrilling and it was so hard for me to hit pause whenever I had to go out or eat or sleep or whatever. There were some parts that were hard for me to stomach because the details can be so vivid. That, and my imagination maybe runs too wild. So sometimes I’d skip a vividly gnarly descriptive paragraph. But that kind of adds to the excitement too, I guess—kind of like peeking through your fingers when watching a horror movie.
You will be introduced to a lot of characters and even the “minor” ones are actually important pieces for the puzzle. If you like mysteries, adventures, and “OHHHH!!! Now I get it!”-feelings, you will enjoy this book immensely. If you like “The Shadow of the Wind” (Carlos Ruiz Zafon) and “All the Light We Cannot See” (Anthony Doerr), I think you will like this—the intensity level is somewhere in between. And like those two books, read it in long sessions so it won’t get confusing.
Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:
All great shows, she told me when I was little […] depend on the most ordinary objects. We can be a weary, cynical lot—we grow old and see only what suits us, and what is marvelous can often pass us by. A kitchen knife. A bulb of glass. A human body. That something so common should be so surprising—why, we forget it. We take it for granted. We assume that our sight is reliable, that our deeds are straightforward, that our words have one meaning. But life is uncommon and strange; it is full of intricacies and odd, confounding turns. So onstage we remind them just how extraordinary the ordinary can be. This, she said, is the tiger in the grass. It’s the wonder that hides in plain sight, the secret life that flourishes just beyond the screen. For you are not showing them a hoax or a trick, just a new way of seeing what’s already in front of them. This, she told me, is your mark on the world. This is the story that you tell. (p.2-3)