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Little
Cover of Little
Little
A Novel
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"An amazing achievement...A compulsively readable novel, so canny and weird and surfeited with the reality of human capacity and ingenuity that I am stymied for comparison. Dickens and David Lynch?...
"An amazing achievement...A compulsively readable novel, so canny and weird and surfeited with the reality of human capacity and ingenuity that I am stymied for comparison. Dickens and David Lynch?...
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  • "An amazing achievement...A compulsively readable novel, so canny and weird and surfeited with the reality of human capacity and ingenuity that I am stymied for comparison. Dickens and David Lynch? Defoe meets Margaret Atwood? Judge for yourself." —Gregory Maguire, New York Times bestselling author of Wicked

    The wry, macabre, unforgettable tale of an ambitious orphan in Revolutionary Paris, befriended by royalty and radicals, who transforms herself into the legendary Madame Tussaud.

    In 1761, a tiny, odd-looking girl named Marie is born in a village in Switzerland. After the death of her parents, she is apprenticed to an eccentric wax sculptor and whisked off to the seamy streets of Paris, where they meet a domineering widow and her quiet, pale son. Together, they convert an abandoned monkey house into an exhibition hall for wax heads, and the spectacle becomes a sensation. As word of her artistic talent spreads, Marie is called to Versailles, where she tutors a princess and saves Marie Antoinette in childbirth. But outside the palace walls, Paris is roiling: The revolutionary mob is demanding heads, and . . . at the wax museum, heads are what they do.
    In the tradition of Gregory Maguire's Wicked and Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, Edward Carey's Little is a darkly endearing cavalcade of a novel—a story of art, class, determination, and how we hold on to what we love.

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    In which I am born and in which I describe my mother and father.

    In the same year that the five-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote his Minuet for Harpsichord, in the precise year when the British captured Pondicherry in India from the French, in the exact year in which the melody for "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" was first published, in that very year, which is to say 1761, whilst in the city of Paris people at their salons told tales of beasts in castles and men with blue beards and beauties that would not wake and cats in boots and slippers made of glass and youngest children with tufts in their hair and daughters wrapped in donkey skin, and whilst in London people at their clubs discussed the coronation of King George III and Queen Charlotte: many miles away from all this activity, in a small village in Alsace, in the presence of a ruddy midwife, two village maids, and a terrified mother, was born a certain undersized baby.

    Anne Marie Grosholtz was the name given to that hurriedly christened child, though I would be referred to simply as Marie. I was not much bigger, at first, than the size of my mother's little hands put together, and I was not expected to live very long. And yet, after I survived my first night, I went on, despite contrary predictions, to breathe through my first week. After that my heart still kept time, without interruption, throughout my first month. Pigheaded, pocket-sized thing.

    My lonely mother was eighteen years old at my birth, a small woman, a little under five foot, marked by being the daughter of a priest. This priest, my grandfather, made a widower by smallpox, had been a very strict man, a fury in black cloth, who never let his daughter out of his sight. After he died, my mother's life changed. Mother began to meet people, villagers who called upon her, and among them was a soldier. This soldier, a bachelor somewhat beyond the customary age, possessing a somber temperament brought on by witnessing so many appalling things and losing so many soldier friends, took a fancy to Mother; he thought they could be happy, so to speak, being sad together. Her name was Anna-Maria Waltner. His name was Joseph Georg Grosholtz. They were married. My mother and my father. Here was loving and here was joy.

    My mother had a large nose, in the Roman style. My father, I believe, had a strong chin that pointed a little upward. That chin and that nose, it seems, fitted together. After a little while, however, Father's furlough was over, and he returned to war. Mother's nose and Father's chin had known each other for three weeks.

    To begin with, for always, there was love. The love my father and mother had for each other was forever present on my face. I was born with both the Waltner nose and the Grosholtz chin. Each attribute was a noteworthy thing on its own, and nicely gave character to the faces of those two families; combined, the result was a little ungainly, as if I were showing more flesh than was my personal due. Children will grow how they will. Some distinguish themselves as prodigies of hair growth, or cut teeth at a wonderfully young age; some are freckled all over; others arrive so pale that their white nakedness is a shock to all who witness it. I nosed and chinned my way into life. I was, certainly, unaware then of what extraordinary bodies I should come to know, of what vast buildings I would inhabit, of what bloody events I would find myself trapped within, and yet, it seems to me, my nose and my chin already had some inkling of it all. Nose and chin, such an armor for life. Nose and chin, such companions.

    Since girls of my stamp were not schooled, it was Mother who gave me education through God. The...

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 20, 2018
    Plunging into the macabre chaos of 18th-century Europe in this exquisite novel, Carey (Alva & Irva) conjures the life of the girl who would become Madame Tussaud. Orphaned at seven, “Little” Anne Marie Grosholz finds herself in servitude to Doctor Curtius, an emaciated recluse who fashions body parts from wax for medical research. He teaches the clever Marie his trade—which she quickly learns, as she’d already developed an early, acute awareness of physiognomy owing to her gargantuan nose and protruding chin. Curtius soon becomes renowned for his wax portrait heads, but when he and Marie must flee to Paris to avoid their creditors, finding lodgings with a tailor’s widow and her son Edmond, Marie is banished to the kitchen by Edmond’s jealous mother. Marie has no choice but to find allies outside the widow’s household, and after a surprise royal visit to Curtius’s workshop, she manages to get herself invited to Versailles to tutor King Louis XVI’s sister Elizabeth. But it is 1780, and only a few years later the monarchy is overcome by the Revolution. Marie manages to make it home, but the Paris she knows implodes, and her royal associations land her in trouble. There is nothing ordinary about this book, in which everything animate and inanimate lives, breathes, and remembers. Carey, with sumptuous turns of phrase, fashions a fantastical world that churns with vitality, especially his “Little,” a female Candide at once surreal and full of heart.

  • Kirkus

    August 15, 2018
    This historical novel explores Revolutionary Paris through the fictionalized eyes of the orphan who grew up to become Madame Tussaud.Born in a little Alsatian village in 1761, Anne Marie Grosholtz--called Marie--inherits her mother's large Roman nose, her father's large, upturned chin, and little else. Marie's widowed mother dies soon after taking a job as housekeeper to Doctor Curtius, a physician who makes wax models of organs and body parts. Little Marie moves to Paris with Curtius, where he opens a wax museum and trains her as his assistant. There, they sculpt first the heads of philosophes, then famous murderers, and eventually victims of the guillotine. (Those make for much more portable models, being detached from their bodies.) Marie's fortunes rise and fall with the politics of the era: She becomes an art tutor to Louis XVI's sister Elisabeth, then spends a stint in the Carmes Prison (where she shares a cell with the future Josephine Bonaparte). Carey (Lungdon, 2015, etc.) channels the ghosts of Charles Dickens, Henry Fielding, and the Brothers Grimm to tell Marie's tale, populating it with grotesques and horrors worthy of Madame Tussaud's celebrated wax museum. Little drawings punctuate the text, like Boz's cartoons in Dickens' books; Carey's rumination on wax recalls Dickens' on dust. In Carey's hands, life blurs with death, nature with artifice; his objects seem as animated as people while his people can appear as fragile and impotent as objects. Dolls, houses, carts, furniture, tailors' dummies, and, of course, waxworks have human feelings: "I had never before considered that carriage clocks could be disapproving, nor had I supposed a candelabra might resent lighting me. I had never stepped upon a carpet that did not wish me there, nor felt the enmity of a marble mantelpiece. Nor had I come upon a gold-braided stool whose fat little feet seemed aimed at my ankles. Not before I entered this room." Curtius "seemed made of rods, of broom handles, of great lengths." This artful anthropomorphism (and its opposite) perfectly suits a novel about that most lifelike medium of sculpture, wax--and its most famous modeler.A quirky, compelling story that deepens into a meditation on mortality and art.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    October 15, 2018

    Whimsy, magic, and macabre are words often used to describe the prose and illustrations of Carey (The Iremonger Trilogy), and this work of historical fiction is no exception. Anna Maria Grosholtz, aka Little, is a fatherless servant girl in the employ of a doctor with a particular skill for molding wax. Becoming his apprentice, Little moves from body parts to human heads and acquires a talent for realistic reproductions. Her ability manifests in befriending a princess, living in the Palace of Versailles, and navigating the tumultuous French Revolution. While literally shaping the heads of history with her hands, she also transforms her artistic skill into a commercial industry. Little is better known today as Madame Tussaud. Carey's vivid language and illustrations provide levity and wit within a imaginative but morbid tale of beheadings and destitution. VERDICT A wildly creative reimagining of the work and life of an artist more associated with George Clooney than Maximilien Robespierre. Admirers of Gregory Maguire will be delighted. [See Prepub Alert, 5/4/18.]--Joshua Finnell, Colgate Univ., Hamilton, NY

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from September 1, 2018
    Carey, who writes for both YAs and adults, presents an immensely creative epic that follows a poor orphan's rise to become the famous Madame Tussaud. Born in 1761, and nicknamed Little for her petite size, Marie Grosholtz becomes the unpaid apprentice of her late mother's odd, nervous employer, Dr. Curtius. After fleeing to Paris, they join forces with a redoubtable widow and her son. Their skills with wax attract attention, leading to their unusual museum and Marie's invitation to tutor Princess Elisabeth at Versailles. At a time of rampant social disparities, the museum becomes a great equalizer: a place where royalty, poets, and notorious murderers?that is, their sculpted stand-ins?can be viewed up close, and ordinary people can participate in a lottery to be models themselves. Mingling a sense of playfulness with macabre history, Carey depicts the excesses of wealth and violence during the French Revolution through the eyes of a talented woman who lived through it and survived. The oddball characters and gothic eccentricities evoke Tim Burton's work but without any fantastical elements; the reality is sufficiently strange on its own. Carey shows how the seemingly absurd, like royal servants lodging in cupboards and artisans forced to re-create newly executed people's heads in wax, becomes shockingly routine. The unique perspective, witty narrative voice, and clever illustrations make for an irresistible read.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2018, American Library Association.)

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