I'm a freelance writer, storyteller and poet living and writing in Manchester.
Published August 28th 2012
Captivating exploration of stories and characters
"The Odditorium" is a wondrous collection of eight stories with figures from throughout history and geography. The title story touches on America's fascination with the wild tales of Ripley's Believe it or Not series in the early half of twentieth century, the outrageous and bizarre human and other natural wonders that defied reason. Yet the story is not specifically about Ripley or his oddities; it is about the unknown, unrecognized fact-checker who worked assiduously to ensure Ripley's claims were true.
And herein lies the theme that connects this collection of otherwise disparate worlds: they are all of outsiders, of those who don't quite belong to a time or a place, but who are trying to make sense of their surroundings, and in doing so, struggling to make sense of themselves, of who they are, both in the places in which they were formed, and in the places in which they find themselves. It is a beautiful and sometimes astonishing assembly of revelations and secrecies.
The stories, the characters, the settings and the histories are fascinating alone, but it is not all this book offers. Melissa Pritchard's prose spans an easy spectrum from innocent to vulgar, is always well-timed, and is as much the fabric of the stories as the plots. At times, a well-turned observation has the power to pull the reader into the paragraph for a swim in its depths, soaking in the words, luxuriating in a new consideration of self and world.
Still, for all its beauty, this is not a heavy book. It doesn't drag you through a quagmire of literary puzzles, though they're on offer should you like. "The Odditorium" is as comfortable a read lounging beach-side as it is a challenging one. Its sincerity, its confusion, its beauty is humanity in all its terror and all its glory. It blows dust from the history books and allows them to breathe, to laugh and to cry, and it is a privilege to be the reader allowed on this ride.