Some writers are happy to write the same book over and over. They find a successful formula and stick to it. Paddy O’Reilly is not one of those writers. This book could not be more different from The Fine Colour of Rust, her deliciously humorous rural anti-romance. Except for one thing: she does one-off, out-of-the-box, quirky characters to a T.
The trio at the centre of The Wonders would, in the nineteenth century, have belonged to a freak show. One has a metal heart, another is covered in fine wool fur and the third has a pair of wings.
Along comes Rhona, a forceful impresario with a circus background, and a tough, modern approach to exploiting these three humans with unusual, unique attributes. She hires a publicist and they go on tour to make their fortunes.
For a while, things cruise along just as planned, despite the kind of pettinesses and tensions you’d expect from three people with highly strung personalities on show. Egos get ruffled. Rivalries emerge. Their insecurities and irritations mirror those of any rock and roll band trapped on tour for too long.
O’Reilly makes Leon, the man with the metal heart, her primary focus. How he came by that heart and his need to reconnect with its maker add a level of mystery and intrigue to this thoroughly unpredictable modern day fantasy.
But then events take an unexpected turn; the mood shifts from one of exotic modern day fairground to something darker and more threatening.
O’Reilly has a light touch when it comes to irony, allowing her to explore themes of difference, disability and celebrity in a way that is both playful and profound before changing gear and ramping up the psychological tension. This is a hard book to categorise but O’Reilly pulls off a unique brand of magical realism with flourish.
Caroline Baum has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National. She is currently Booktopia’s Editorial Director.
by Paddy O’Reilly
What sets them apart is the radical, experimental and sometimes faulty medical treatments they’ve all undergone. Leon has a hole punched through his chest and a small mechanical heart visible to all; Kathryn has been cured of a rare genetic disorder but the treatment left her covered in curly black wool; and performance artist Christos has metal wings implanted into his back.
When ‘The Wonders’ are brought together by a canny entrepreneur, their glamorous, genre-defying, twenty first-century freak show becomes a global sensation. But what makes them objects of fascination also places them in danger. A wonderfully inventive novel that challenges our ideas about celebrity, disability and the value of life from one of Australia’s finest authors at the peak of her powers.
About the Author
Paddy O’Reilly is the author of two novels, The Factory and The Fine Colour of Rust, a collection of award-winning short stories, and a novella. Her novels have been shortlisted for major awards, and her stories have been widely published, anthologised and broadcast in Australia and overseas.