The Swan Gondola

The Swan Gondola - Timothy Schaffert

What an unusual and charming book. I fell in love with "The Swan Gondola" fairly quickly with its loud and lively main character and its equally lively and vivid writing that made the whole tale come to life. And what a bittersweet tale it turned out to be, not entirely unpredictable yet haunting all the same.

After finishing this book I can say it isn't a story for everyone. Those who expect something unexpected and completely new won't necessarily find it in these pages. What the book offers is a new level of charm that is unlike any other book I picked up. It's a story that shows just how twisted love can be, how it can make people go crazy and the ideas they have in an attempt to justify their own actions. Ferret wasn't a character I loved during the whole book - his moments of madness somewhere half way and his "logical" illogical thinking made me wish he and Cecily wouldn't be together. Yet even in these moments when Ferret acted like somewhat of a madman he still held my attention for him. That's the true beauty of this book - it's able to keep you interested and love the story even with such broken and at times illogical characters. Take Wakefield for instance, perhaps the most crazy and messed up of them all. Even with his justifications and actions that couldn't ever make up for his actions, he still felt at home in the pages and held my admiration for him as a twisted sort of villain that, at the same time, wasn't exactly that either.

The settings are so beautiful in this book that I cannot begin to explain. The language is vivid and whimsical in all the right places that make you keep reading and help you fall in love with the story a little more with every page. It's the kind of book i constantly search for yet often don't find. "The Swan Gondola" joins only a few other books in a category of books that I define as literary eye-candy in the best sense. It's beautiful in all the right ways, from the established setting of Omaha to the descriptions of the Fair to everything before, after, and in between.

To add to the already long list of pluses is some of the beautiful thoughts that have come out of this book's pages. But the one I loved as soon as I stumbled across it, that practically leaped from the pages at me as soon as I saw it, was this one, found on page 251 in one of Ferret's letters:

“Hester, meanwhile, says we should live all of life back to front. We should be born old and age younger. Our baptism should be a ritual of our funeral. We should die as infants, content in our mothers' arms, having lost all our learning and all sense of disappointment. If only we could die, she says, not knowing we'd ever grieved.”

It was like a little thunderbolt after I read it. It wasn't something revolutionary in a way, but the way the thought was phrased, with such simple and straight honesty, that will stick with me forever. Another one worth mentioning is almost at the very end, the phrase "Let Dorothy go to the City of Emeralds". I won't spoil the story so I won't give the context in which it was found, but I thought it was oh so clever and fitting to find at the very end of the story.

It's a beautiful book that has its slight shortcomings, like some of the details and plot-twists that I feel the reader is expected to go along with. But these are so easy to overlook and forgive when the rest of the book is so beautiful. This is easily going to be one of the best and most memorable books of the year - I find it difficult to imagine reading anything that could top this. What a truly quirky little gem.