Little People: A Novel

Jane Sullivan

Little People: A Novel
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Little People: A Novel

Jane Sullivan

‘A startling feat of the gothic imagination, made wholly convincing by lucid and controlled storytelling.’ AMANDA LOHREY When Mary Ann, an impoverished governess, rescues a child from the Yarra River, she sets in motion a train of events that she could never have foreseen. It is not a child she has saved but General Tom Thumb, star of a celebrated troupe of midgets on their 1870 tour of Australia. From the enchanting Queen of Beauty Lavinia Stratton to the brilliant pianist Franz Richardson, it seems that Mary Ann has fallen in among friends. She soon discovers, however, that relationships within the troupe and its entourage are far from harmonious. Jealousy is rife, and there are secrets aplenty- even Mary Ann has one of her own. Relief gradually turns to fear as he realises that she may be a pawn in a more dangerous game than she imagined … This gripping historical novel has all the colour and flair of the circus, complete with sideshows starring the little people themselves. A fantastical tale of intrigue and showtime glamour, Little People will charm and beguile you. ‘I fell in love with this glorious novel from the very first page. Little People is vibrant storytelling at its charismatic best.’ TONI JORDAN


In 1870, Mary Ann is unmarried, unemployed and pregnant. On a dark Melbourne night, she stands on the bank of the swollen Yarra, contemplating her fate when she spots a small figure fall into the water. Without thinking, she plunges into the river to save the child, who clings to her with more force than any other child she has known. When she wakes, Mary Ann discovers that she has rescued General Tom Thumb, dwarf and star of the troupe of Little People touring Australia. Her impulsive bravery is rewarded when the travelling company offers her a job and an eventual passage to the New World.

However, all is not as it seems, and as the tour crosses Australia’s deserts, rivers, towns and cities, Mary Ann begins to wonder just what she has gotten herself and her unborn child into.

Inspired by the time General Tom Thumb and his fellow dwarves spent in Australia as part of their world tour in 1870, Little People is a rollicking read. Jane Sullivan captures the theatre of the travelling circus beautifully, offering a glimpse into the world of the freak show in a time long-gone. Tom Thumb, his wife ‘the Queen of beauty’ Lavinia Stratton, her sister Minnie Warren and the General’s rival, Commodore George Washington Nutt, were incredibly famous across the world, brushing shoulders with royalty by day and performing to huge crowds at night.

Mary Ann thinks her prayers have been answered when she is welcomed by this glamorous outfit, especially when The General and his wife offer to adopt her unborn child as their own, but as the tour continues, the motivations of almost everyone she meets seem more and more sinister. Rendered almost completely powerless, as so many women were in those days, Mary Ann must use her intelligence and fighting spirit to overcome the many obstacles she encounters.

This work of historical fiction is a lively tale that will charm readers with as much flamboyance and intrigue as the General and his co-stars won their audience’s hearts over a century ago.

Virginia Millen is an editor and a freelance reviewer.

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