cover image Little


Edward Carey. Riverhead, $27 (448p) ISBN 978-0-525-53432-7

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. [em](Oct.) [/em]