BOOK REVIEW: Little People (Jane Sullivan, Scribe)

Inspired by the real-life tour of a troupe of ‘little people’ to Australia in 1870, this quirky novel is the second from literary journalist Jane Sullivan. It is ostensibly the story of Mary Ann, recently released from employment by the amorous father of her ward and bearing his child. Standing on the banks of the Yarra contemplating suicide, she sees a child fall from a bridge and rushes to its rescue. The child is in fact Charles Stratton, know as General Tom Thumb, the charismatic entertainer who, along with his wife, the beautiful and perfectly formed Lavinia; her restless and willful sister Minnie; and rival for lead Commodore George Washington Nutt, inhabit a world of barely restrained, savage curiosity in the employ of P T Barnum. Taken in as dresser to the two diminutive ladies, Mary Ann is exposed to the strange and transient life they lead. As time passes she becomes aware that her position there may have more to do with the child she carries than her act of heroism. Mary Ann is not the only character to narrate the story as others take turns in various ‘sideshows’ to relate their own tales; this shift in narrative works well and these sideshows provide great amusement and colour. The language and voices of the characters do a fine job of placing the story in its historical context, and the story itself is interestingly textured and set in a fascinating milieu. This is a most enjoyable read.

Paul Landymore is business and development manager at Queensland Writers’ Centre and a former bookseller. This review first appeared in the March issue of Bookseller+Publisher.

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