“One day she will ask me the inevitable question. There is much to tell, and I am not certain how to tell it. At least I know where to begin…It began with a game a gentleman taught me.”
And so Mary Ann starts to tell her own story, a fantastical mysterious melodrama filled with the bizarre and unexpected. She is a governess, pregnant to her former employer and desperate to find a solution to her plight. When she rescues General Tom Thumb, star of a celebrated theatrical company of little people, from the Yarra River it seems as though she has been offered a chance to build a new future. But all is not as it initially appears. Mary Ann is an innocent abroad, caught up in multi-layered conspiracies and it soon becomes obvious that she is out of her depth.
Little People is hard to categorise – literary historical thriller comes close, but this is a novel that resists being labelled. It is based on a real event, the 1870 tour of Australia by American entrepreneur PT Barnum’s protégées; General Tom Thumb; his wife Lavinia Stratton; her sister, Minnie Warren; and Commodore George Nutt. But the plot and the central character of Mary Ann are fictional.
The Tom Thumb troupe of miniature people were the focus of enormous interest in many countries, they were mobbed on their travels and this Victorian obsession with the different and curious is one of the book’s major themes. The heavy red curtains on the cover suggest a play (or perhaps a melodrama) within, and this stagey metaphor is seems apposite. The story is told from several different viewpoints and this varied subjectivity adds a rich complexity to the book – the reader is gripped by the twists and turns until the very end.
Little People is almost impossible to put down and is highly recommended to anyone seeking an electric tale that will keep them enthralled until the last page. It has already attracted much critical praise and I can only add my voice to the chorus.
Jane Sullivan came to Australia from England in 1979 and worked for The Age as a reporter, feature writer and editor of various sections, including the books pages. She won the inaugural Australian Human Rights Award for journalism. At present she writes a Saturday column, ‘Turning Pages’, and features about books and writing for The Age. Her first novel was The White Star. Her second novel, Little People, was shortlisted in the CAL Scribe Fiction Prize. She lives in Melbourne with her husband and son.
Title: Little People
Author: Jane Sullivan
Publication Date: April 2011