1909, Seattle. For twelve-year-old Ernest Young, a charity student at a boarding school, the chance to go to the World’s Fair feels like a gift. But when he’s there amid the exotic exhibits, the half-Chinese orphan discovers that he will actually be a prize, raffled off to ‘a good home’. He is claimed as a servant by the flamboyant madam of a high-class brothel. There he forges new friendships and discovers a sense of family for the first time. Perhaps this is the home he’s always wanted?
On the eve of the new World’s Fair fifty years later, Ernest is juggling memories and the demands of his ailing wife as well as long-held family secrets which threaten to leak out.
What I Thought:
From the bud of an idea and a story of a child raffled off at the 1909 World’s Fair comes a novel that touches on the sumptuous and seedy Seattle of 1909 as seen through the eyes of that child.
Love and Other Consolation Prizes is full of historical detail, both of the 1909 World’s Fair, and of the contrasting World’s Fair of 1962. These two events allow Jamie Ford to explore Ernest’s early life, the heartbreaking section of his being sold to people smugglers, and allows the older Ernest to reflect on the events that made him the man he is and shaped his family. In this earlier period, there are some wonderful characterisations emcompassing real-life figures in Seattle’s nightlife and we learn that perhaps the Victorians and Edwardians were not so prudish as we imagine!
In the later sections, we recognise the Ernest of 1909, but with age, family and respectability, is he now somewhat ashamed of those early years? It’s an interesting question – do we, as we get older become more staid, more judgemental or do we just become more worried about what people will think of us? As the secrets of Ernest and his wife are revealed it seems like a freeing experience for them, a chance to look back on their past with fondness instead of hiding the places and people that were important to them.
The book is beautifully written with Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909 and the Century 21 Exposition of 1962 described in truly evocative detail and it’s easy to get a sense of how busy and how exciting those events must’ve been, how spectacular and completely outside of every day life. It’s definitely inspired me to read more widely around World’s Fairs which have a long and interesting history, dating back to the 1840s.
I feel at this point as though I should be doing a separate review for the design of this book as it’s a really lovely thing. In my photo, above, I felt that I wanted to show the gorgeous end papers which are made up of Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition tickets in collage, so there are a few glimpses in the background. Every review copy I have had from Allison & Busby has been lovely, beautifully designed and tying in with the text, so their design department get lots of love from me!
Please note: I received a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.