Love and Other Consolation Prizes…
A powerful novel about an orphan boy who is raffled off at Seattle’s 1909 World Fair, and the friends who teach him what it really means to have a family, from the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
Inspired by a true story, this is the unforgettable story of a young boy named Ernest, set during the 1909 Seattle world’s fair called the Alaska Yukon Pacific Expo. It is a time when the magical wonders of technology on display at the expo future seems limitless. But for Ernest, a half-Chinese orphan who found his way to America through a last desperate act of his beloved mother, every door is closed. A charity student at a boarding school, he has never really had a place to call home. Then one day, his wealthy sponsor announces that if a home is what he wants, then that is what he will have: Ernest will be offered as a prize in the daily raffle at the fair, advertised as “Healthy boy to a good home for the winning ticket holder.” The woman who “wins” him is the madam of a notorious brothel who was famous for educating her girls. He becomes a houseboy in her brothel and is befriended by the daughter of the madam, as well as a Japanese girl who works in the kitchen. The friendship and love between these three form the first real family Ernest has ever known.
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.
Every so often, I’ll come across a novel that is simply unforgettable. Love and Other Consolation Prizes is one such novel. Fiction inspired by the most incredible fact, my mind was opened up to a whole world that I was unaware had existed.
Love and Other Consolation Prizes is a love story, of the deepest love, friendship and life long dedication, a love forged out of survival more than romanticism. But more than this, Love and Other Consolation Prizes is a memoir of shameful days gone by, a snapshot of human exploitation and depravity, child migrant slavery and entrenched corruption. While the facts forming the basis of this story were often brutal, reading it was not, for Jamie Ford has such a way with words. His polished prose makes the terrible still beautiful, in a raw and painful way as well as joyous and triumphant.
“But that’s when Ernest understood. Sometimes you need to feel the sadness, you need to feel everything to finally leave it behind, to have peace.”
Love and Other Consolation Prizes is the first novel by Jamie Ford that I have had the pleasure of reading, but it most certainly won’t be the last. He creates the most memorable three dimensional characters and his setting is sublimely authentic. His research is evident throughout and reiterated in the comprehensive – and entirely fascinating — author’s notes at the end. I read this novel with a lump wedged firmly in my throat and on several occasions, re-read passages for their beautiful prose and vivid imagery. Well paced as it moved between two eras, Love and Other Consolation Prizes is a must read for fans of historical fiction. Unforgettable and brilliant, this is a novel that will stay with me.
Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin (Faber Factory Plus) for providing me with a copy of Love and Other Consolation Prizes for review.