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The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert
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The Swan Gondola (2014)

by Timothy Schaffert

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17713105,164 (3.69)16
"From the critically acclaimed author of The Coffins of Little Hope, a new novel depicting a tragic love story set amid the fanciful inventions, gothic amusements, spiritualists, flimflam men, and other crooked characters who populated the 1898 Omaha World's Fair"--

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The setting of Omaha's World's Fair was perfect for the storyline. I could picture the temporary white buildings built for the fair. The characters were just the type to perform at the fair, and their overlapping stories were interesting. I particularly enjoyed the hot air balloon reminiscent of the balloon in The Wizard of Oz. ( )
  Beth.Clarke | Jun 28, 2019 |
2.5 ( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
The Swan Gondola is an interesting story that left me confused as to how I feel about it all. I keep moving between 3 and 4 stars.

Ferret Skerritt one day lands on top of the house of two elderly sisters living in the middle of nowhere, covering the house with the hot air balloon he was flying in. Nobody knows where he came from or what his story is and he’s not inclined to open up about it initially. He begins composing letters to his lost love and finally tells his story to the sisters. Soon we find out that he is a ventriloquist and pickpocket suffering from a freshly broken heart. It seems that he is in love with a ridiculously elusive actress named Cecily. The backdrop of their love story is the Omaha World Fair of 1898 (in real life known as the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition).

There were many things about this story that I liked- the setting and descriptions of the fair, the way the story is told from the point of view of a self-sufficient yet naive hustler, a balloon randomly falling on the house of two kooky old women, and some of the Ferret’s friends (especially August in all of his eccentricities).

The story in its entirety, though, didn't mesh well to me. Things got a little slow after the balloon fell out of the sky in the beginning, then picked back up, then slowed down, then picked up, then slowed down, etc. At some points I was ready to give up only to be sucked back in before wanting to give up again for good, but I had to finish it to see if the ending would glue it all together.

I don’t understand why Ferret fell in love with Cecily. She was not likable to me but everybody loved her for whatever reason. I really couldn't even picture her in my mind. The ghost aspect lost me a little. The Trilby aspect lost me a little. Wakefield, the rich guy with the metal arm, was a constant enigma to me even after I learned what his motivation was supposed to be. I don’t know WHAT he’s supposed to be. There were seeeeeveral unnecessary parts that could have been cut out. Also, you will need a dictionary nearby for all of the antiquated words that thoroughly pepper this work.

At the same time I'm glad I read this book. There are some parts that I really loved (Hester with her gun at the beginning, Rosie's comical anarchists, August in drag). I appreciate that it was clearly very well researched. It painted a vivid picture of life, especially among the poor, at the turn of the 20th century. I could even see it making a decent movie in the hands of the right people who know what to cut out and what to emphasize. I would love to see August’s character brought to life and to see Wakefield developed a bit more.
( )
  cosiari | Jul 3, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
LOVED this book. A great sweeping story filled with a wonderful, quirky mix of characters. It is set mainly at the Omaha World's Fair, which of course, is fictional, but by reading this you will think it was real and wish you could have been a spectator. I thought the descriptions were stunning from the Midway to the Wild West town, to the Chamber of Horrors to the living quarters for the carnies. Truly wonderful writing. This is storytelling at its finest. ( )
  bnbookgirl | Apr 15, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This tale is part magical adventure and part ghost story. Set at the Omaha World’s Fair in 1898, it’s an exciting tale of romance as well. Ferret Skerritt is an extraordinary character, a ventriloquist by trade but a con man at heart. He falls for Cecily, an unusual woman in her own right. The book is rather lengthy, but its size works well for it and allows Schaffert to take his time setting the tone. The writing style is richly evocative, and the mood of the novel seems at first to be as important as the storyline. As the story progresses, the plot grows stronger and more complex, the characters more and more intriguing. This is a well-crafted and skillfully-written book, atmospheric and breathtaking. ( )
  Maydacat | Apr 4, 2014 |
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