The Palace of Curiosities – Rosie Garland
Rosie Garland is a name that has fluttered around me for years, mainly through one or two artistic friends with a fascination with her alter ego Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen, cabaret star and poet. As a fan of alternative performance without the delight of watching her myself, when I saw that her first book had been published, I knew it would be bought. After all I had heard about her, I was eager to gain an insight into Rosie’s mind.
For me, no matter what the subject of the book is, when it comes to fiction or poetry you can find a connection to the writer within those pages. It may be small, in the syntax of narration or the way something is described, or glaring like a fan parade with emotive imagination.
Rosie Garland has managed to morph a self portrait into a thousand words.
The opening line to her introduction states: ‘Born in London to a runaway teenager, Rosie has always been a cuckoo in the nest’. And so we begin. The Palace of Curiosities focuses around two characters, Eve and Abel, each of whom are considered ‘freaks’ without a place in Victorian London society. Alternatively swapping between the two first person narratives, Garland allows us a beautiful insight into their minds which provides so much more than just understanding them better. Their pain, their fear and strength, even their very coping mechanisms become attached to my psyche and like the omnipresent presence I become within their lives, I see the bigger picture but must watch helplessly as I turn each page. Underlying emotions and images creep in between the words and pull me in – I soon forget I am reading a book and I am there, the ever watching, powerless God.
Eve is born completely covered in hair. An abomination to her mother, Eve creates an imaginary friend, the even more grotesque Donkey-Skin, whose sharp sarcasm and brutal wit helps Eve to harden to a world which is not ready for her. But within the struggles of day to day living, a proposition of marriage takes Eve to make a choice which sets her future in stone. Elsewhere, Abel struggles to remember any of his past, waking each day with an emptiness of self, and yearns for the opportunity to understand who and what he is. However, once the door to memory begins to open, Abel remembers why he tried to keep it shut.
From the opening chapter it is clear I am in a new world – even as a regular reader of Victorian fiction, there is something in Garland’s writing that creates a refreshingly new intensity. However, grandeur is not overdone; I believe this world as if it existed. Alongside this it is hard not to begin feeling the subtle sense of imprisonment that the main characters have within this Victorian society. The world is oppressed, and only through embracing the alternative can they begin to find freedom.
The Palace of Curiosities is an easy, alluring read that deals with the concepts of oppression and misfits in a clever and playful way. Drink it in.