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Little, by Edward Carey

Little, by Edward Carey, is an unusual book in many regards. Not only is its subject matter, a fictionalized retelling of the life of the woman who would become Madame Tussaud, bleak, filled with quirky characters (not the least, the central one, Marie Grosholtz who is given the nickname, Little) and related against a backdrop of bloody unrest and civil war (the French Revolution), but the voice in which its relayed is very different as well. 

Once you become accustomed to the style of the narration, it’s easy to be swept up into Little’s tale.  When young Marie, who lives in Berne, comes into the orbit of the eccentric and clever Dr Curtius, her universe is expanded and yet simultaneously contracted. Responsible for making moulds of various organs and body parts for the local hospital, the Dr finds in Marie a willing and very able assistant. Sharing his insatiable fascination for the human body, Marie slowly starts to find her place in the world. But, it seems, the world isn’t quite ready for Marie. 

A move to Paris opens doors for Curtius and his peculiar talents but more or less closes them for Marie. It’s not until a twist of fate throws her in the path of royalty that her life undergoes a dramatic, but in many ways, bizarre change. 

Based loosely on Madame Tussaud’s personal history, this is a story of familial relations, noble favour, longing, broken hearts, artistry and passion – the latter for humankind, but not in the way you might expect. Little is a strange protagonist that, like many who encounter her, you feel both drawn to and repelled by. She is honest, direct, humble and yet lit by an internal fire that somehow Carey manages to make burn through the pages.

Told over decades, it’s a sad, dark story and yet utterly compelling as well. For fans of literature, history and books that seek to fill in the huge gaps history tantalizingly leaves, particularly when it comes to women and those who lack a real voice, this Little book is for you. 

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