Born in Alsace in 1761, the unsightly, diminutive Marie Grosholtz is quickly nicknamed ‘Little’. Orphaned at the age of six, she finds employmet in Bern, Switzerland, under the charge of reclusive anatomist, Dr Curtius. In time the unlikely pair form an unlikely bond, and together they pursue an unusual passion: the fine art of wax-modelling.
Forced to flee their city, the doctor and his protégée head for the seamy streets of Paris where they open an exhibition hall for their uncanny creations. Though revolution approaches, the curious-minded flock to see the wax heads, eager to scrutinise the faces of royalty and reprobates alike. At ‘The Cabinet of Doctor Curtius’, heads are made, heads are displayed, and a future is built from wax.
From the gutters of pre-revolutionary France to the luxury of the Palace of Versailles, from casting the still-warm heads of The Terror to finding something very like love, Little is the unforgettable story of how a ‘bloodstained crumb of a girl’ went on to shape the world…
When Marie Grosholtz’s father passes away she and her mother are forced leave their countryside home for the city of Berne, where they will work for Doctor Curtius, a thin, pale man who has grown unaccustomed to socialising and prefers the company of his many creations. Hands, noses, feet, fingers, organs, legs, hearts and heads, all created from wax and used as tools to teach at the local hospital. Dr. Curtius is adept and passionate about his work; what he conjures with an array of tools and a talented eye instantly spark an intrigue in Marie. When her mother dies, a bond develops between herself and the Doctor. She captures a small corner of his heart. He teaches her his work and over time she becomes his friend, companion and apprentice.
Experimenting one day, Dr. Curtius fashions an exact wax replica of Marie’s face. Every pore, mole and blemish are recorded in this strange new way. Soon, others, hearing of this phenomenon, commission the Doctor to make wax replicas of themselves. The business burgeons but their hopes of it growing any larger are swiftly scuppered when Dr. Curtius’s employer forbids him from making anymore wax heads and threatens to part him and Marie. Desperate, they flee to Paris and take up residency at an old Tailor’s shop. While an exciting world of opportunity unfolds for Dr. Curtius, a world of restrictions and cruelty arrives for Marie. The Widow Picot, owner of the shop, thrusts Marie, now known as Little, into the role of a servant. Her life is refined to the grimy kitchen. She can no longer pour her passion into wax creations. She can no longer be an apprentice. Suddenly Widow Picot has stolen from her that small special place in the doctor’s heart. But for a bold and brave girl such as Marie, opportunities lie just around the corner and they will shift and shape her life into a life far from the word ‘Little’ as there can be.
Little is a scintillating novel about a girl who becomes the famous Madame Tussaud. Following this character was quite literally remarkable. I adored this book. It not only lends a dazzling insight into a great historical figure (many more besides) and a significant part of history, it also invites the reader to discover an unforgettable cast of characters that take a running leap into your imagination with the first chapter. Locations such as Berne, Paris and London are described with stunning detail, every drop of blood and dirt, every morsel of grief and tragedy, every hope and ambition on the streets and in the hearts of the characters come alive.
Edward Carey writes with rich, evocative prose, following the life of this character in such a way that will leave you aghast. Marie ‘Little’ Grosholtz will unpick your heart and knock the breath from your lungs. Down to the keenest observations and the smallest note of wit in her young voice, this book is genius. It had me transfixed. The author injects boundless passion, wisdom and humour into this character – and all the rest. It’s an absolute must read!
Rich. Compelling. Scintillating.
To purchase a copy of this book, you can follow the links below:
About Edward Carey
Edward Carey was born in Norfolk, England. He is a novelist, visual artist and has also written and directed a number of plays for the National Theatre of Romania and the Vilnius Small State Theatre, Lithuania. In England his plays and adaptations have been performed at the Young Vic Studio, the Battersea Arts Centre, and the Royal Opera House Studio. He is the author of the novels Observatory Mansions, Alva and Irva, and the acclaimed YA series The Iremonger Trilogy, which has been published in thirteen countries and has been optioned for film adaptation. After university, Edward worked at Madame Tussaud in London, preventing people from touching the waxworks, and it was there that he learnt the incredible story of the museum’s founder. Edward lives in Austin, Texas in the United States, and teaches at the University of Austin. He is available for interview and to write features.
Huge thanks to Jimena and Gallic Books for my review copy!!