I think I have my ear fairly close to the ground when it comes to new books but I must admit that this one passed me by completely until researching my “Looking Around” post at the beginning of the year and finding Bookish Beck having it at number 3 on her Books Of The Year list. Her enthusiasm piqued my interest. I was not disappointed.
Edward Carey has written a marvellously entertaining original fictionalised take on the life of the diminutive Marie Grosholtz, nicknamed “Little” who would achieve huge and long-lasting recognition following her marriage to a M. Tussaud.
The tale begins in eighteenth century Switzerland when the orphaned child works for Dr Curtius, a wax-worker involved in medical models. The two relocate to Paris and together with a tailor’s widow and her son move into an old building formerly used to house and exhibit monkeys. This is the story of how the business repeatedly flourished and faded amongst the extraordinary backdrop of the French Revolution. I waited until finishing the book before checking autobiographical details and much of the basis of Carey’s fiction is there. It does seem that anyone who lived through and emerged from this time in French history would have a sensational story to tell and Marie is certainly no exception.
Through a first-person narrative Carey has created an enthralling character I will probably remember forever. Written with gusto and an eccentric energy “Little” will not be beaten down however bad circumstances get. There’s a naivety and optimism which fuels this novel- she is certainly no “Little Nell” yet the skill of storytelling here will suggest comparisons to Charles Dickens. Through this narrative a rich cast of characters is created and anyone looking for an original, gutsy historical novel will find this a delight. Her account is punctuated throughout by pencil drawings which give the novel an added quirkiness and depth.
I very much hope that this will be one of those books whose reputation will spread by word of mouth. It currently has a 93% 5 star rating on Amazon with just two detractors opting for four stars. I fully expect to be mentioning it again in my end of year Top 10.
Little was published in 2018. I read the Gallic Books paperback edition.