I have a feeling many people are going to be talking about this novel in 2014, though it might be bigger in another year or two, when some studio picks it up and adapts it for film. I could be wrong, but there’s a certain mix here that I believe many will eat up. The novel has a wonderful atmosphere about it, and the love story and tension—it’s all very attention-grabbing. The Swan Gondola is unique in many ways, yet it is extremely reminiscent of other novel’s I’ve read.
The most obvious initial comparison is to Water for Elephants, a comparison made by the publisher itself. Yes, it certainly captures some of the tone and romanticism of Sara Gruen’s most beloved novel, but I would argue The Swan Gondola is far more realized and mature than Water for Elephants. The fair is more engrossing than the circus was. More is at stake in this love story. And the tension kept me riveted. The publisher and other reviewers have also compared The Swan Gondola to Night Circus, but this one I have not read, so I cannot confirm this observation.
As far as tone, The Swan Gondola reminded me most of Dexter Palmer’s The Dream of Perpetual Motion at times. There is a dark mysticism to the novel that felt genuine. Being at the fair, I felt surrounded by the cogs of this great beast that was somehow both beautiful and terrifying. It’s this tone, along with the engaging love story of “Ferret” and Cecily, that propels this story and makes it so wonderful.
Finally, in its entirety, this novel reminded me greatly of Wuthering Heights. The structure and the plot certainly bear some familiarity to Emily Bronte’s only novel, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say The Swan Gondola emulates or parallels Wuthering Heights; it is its own creation, but the two novels share a strong bond to one another.
The Swan Gondola is a great read and will likely attract the attention of many. I do feel the romance was rushed initially and that the final hundred pages or so are disappointing in light of the rest of the novel, but these small things should not detract readers from giving this story a go.
For those curious about the “Omaha World Fair” at the novel’s center, it is based on the Trans-Mississippi Exposition that took place in 1898. Schaffert did an amazing job giving life to the fair in this novel.