Hello, darling readers!
Back in the fall, I did a review of Melanie Benjamin's Alice, I Have Been, and I wasn't too thrilled with it. For some reason, I don't seem to learn my literary lessons and I keep reading books by authors whose writing style I'm just not too fond of. Maybe it's because I keep holding out hope that I'll find one I like, or maybe it's because I've already decided I'm going to read it, so I make myself do it. Either way, it happens, and I end up not being so fond of the book (surprise, surprise). Such was the case with Ms. Benjamin's second book, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.
Ms. Benjamin certainly picked an interesting character to write about and she did a very good job of fully developing Lavinia "Vinnie" Bump. I had no idea that Tom Thumb and his wife actually existed, so the book (and subsequent Wikipedia searches) introduced me to something with which I was unfamiliar. Not only that, I was completely unfamiliar with mid-19th century life, let alone "freak show" (I hate that phrase) workings. So, to state the obvious, the book was an eye-opener.
Let me start with the positives. Melanie Benjamin does a very good job of developing her characters, even her peripheries; she does so in such a way that you get interested in them and have emotions towards them (I'l get to that one later...). She also does a very good job of sticking to historical facts and her research clearly shows in the her writing. I appreciated that Ms. Benjamin decided to make PT Barnum a likeable character, which not many would. He was genuinely caring and respectful, and I was impressed with how he was written.
I would also say that her books are easy to read and can be finished in a weekend; I do feel, however, that this one you do need to read through, rather than skip a few chapters like I did with the prior novel.
Now, the negatives. I'm not so sure it's possible for Ms. Benjamin to write a character that I like and sympathize with. At first, I genuinely liked Vinnie; I understood her feelings of being out-of-place and wanting to experience the bigger world. However, she quickly turned into a self-righteous, selfish woman who blamed others (particularly PT Barnum and Tom Thumb) for her troubles. Not only that, Vinnie did a complete reversal towards the end of the book and decided to become a master of self-pity and self-hatred, which was just as annoying. I would rather have seen her accept any unfortunate events are others' choices, rather than events that revolved around her.
Also, while I don't find Benjamin's writing to be terribly difficult to follow or her work too long to get through, I just don't like how she writes. I can't put a finger on it, but I always seem to get irritated with her novels and her characters. She does a lot of research and really thinks out what she does, but for some reason, I just can't enjoy it. So maybe I'll learn my lesson this time. We'll see.