A stunning debut

Church of Marvels -  Leslie Parry

ebook, 320 pages, expected publication: May 5th 2015

It is New York 1895 and four characters are drawn together by a series of events that is nothing what you expect.
The book is touted as a cross between Night Circus and Water for Elephants it is none of these it so much better. It is darker, more vibrant and utterly compelling to read.
Each chapter is told from a different characters point of view, usually this has can be jarring but Parry makes it flow and you are immersed in this wonderful story. It is about family secrets, guilt and growing up.
The story hangs on Odile’s journey as she tries to find her twin sister, Belle. All Odile has to find Belle is one clue and she follows the trail. She meets Sylvan who works cleaning out the shit houses, he hopes to find a small fortune in the faeces and if that does not happen he fights for cash. Yet for a man who really is at the bottom of society he has the kindest of hearts when he finds a baby, that he nurses, cares for and tries to find the child’s mother. Alphie is trying to make her marriage work with a husband who has some serious issues including a mother who is just horrendous. You have Belle who is an enigma and it is not really til the end that you come to understand and appreciate her story. There is for me a fifth character in this story and that is the city of New York. Parry has researched and captured this brutal world of poverty and opium dens that makes you really believe you are in this world. It is not only visual but the smells ‘The heady stench – horseshit and roasting chestnuts and trash barrels pulsing with maggots.” The section with the women’s hospital is dark, vicious and heartbreaking.
The character descriptions are poignant and I love the how she crafted the Signora “all talcum and licorice, only stared at her with eyes as blunt as lustreless as nailheads, her freckled breasts heaving, her coiffure pinned up with ostrich plume.” It is these carefully realised characters that really make this novel.
Parry has created a novel that has well realised characters, a gripping story line and beautiful descriptive writing. It is a novel to lose yourself in.