So, I wasn't really thrilled. It might have been because this book reminded me a bit of The Night Circus, but that was fabulous and so it paled in comparison. Certainly, there is nothing really wrong with this novel; it was creative and unique; it developed two very interesting characters, showing the reader their similarities and their differences without being too overt (something I hate and frequently complain of), but there was just nothing that grabbed me and made me want to wallow.
Carlson creates two very different (but very similar) narrators: Ana Swift, the giantess, and Emilie Gillaudau, the museum's taxidermist. Ana is stuck in the rut of her life and is searching for meaning. She is tired of being a spectacle and wishes for a "civic" life. Despite her aethism, she briefly considers marriage to a seminary student simply to be able to grasp some sort of normalcy in life: "I wondered if the fact that I, certainly one of God's more jaded creatures, had warmed to his innocence was one of the world's more wicked jokes or one of its greates gifts."
Gillaudau is stuck in a rut, but he is not aware of it and certainly does not welcome the change until he is let down by one of his heroes (Cuvier's mistaken editorial comment in his scientific book: "Published under a different title, in a book devoted to such things, Cuvier's thoughts on primitive man would be legitimate, but this? He stared at the pages of his beloved volume, no longer reading but unable to turn away from the columns of type that had provided him shelter, structure, and guidance. Was nothing in this world reliable? Would his abandonment be complete? His erasure total?") and then struck by another (Linneaus scolds him through the page for focusing in study/reason to the exclusion of experience). After venturing out to NY Island (one of the most pathetic advertures of all time, if I must say), Gillaudau is a changed man. He meets Lillian and embraces his new life at the museum and with her and becomes excited by the change around him.
Simulaneously Ana begins to find reasons to admire people; she opens herself up to humanity. She looks for change and seeks a way to embrace others and starts to become an advocate for and representative of the "wonderful". She starts an English class (albeit a failing one), she tries to unionize, and she speaks up for the Aztec children. But it is not really until she befriends the other giant (Tai Shen) and she realizes that he thinks the visitors are "Very nice people. When had I ever thought so well of museum visitors or anyone?" that she starts to actually want to engage with others.
Both of these characters move outside their shells; it was an interesting exposition because they are so different and have such different experiences within the microcosm of the museum.
The book was well written and it was a revealing character piece; I just did not find the story very compelling (there was really almost no plot), and in comparison with The Night Circus, it just wasn't "wonderful" or "fantastical" enough. The novelties here might have entranced an audience in 1845, but they did not impress this jaded modern reader.