July 01, 2011

Afar In The Lost Lands (Review: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children; R. Riggs)


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenMiss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Ransom Riggs
Quirk 2011

Jacob has grown up with his grandfather’s strange tales. Stories of a fantastical orphanage, filled with bizarre inhabitants and run by a mysterious Bird. While the orphanage is always portrayed as a place of sanctuary, Abe’s stories also have their darker side with monsters lurking against the backdrop of the second World War. As a child, Jacob is entranced by Abe, his supposed life history and the strange photographs that illustrate it, yet as he grows older his enchantment turns to feelings of disappointment and vague betrayal as he realises that his Grandfather’s monsters are really metaphors for the very real horrors of the holocaust. Or are they? After a truly traumatic event, Jacob finds himself driven to explore Abe’s past, his tall tales and above all Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.

As a character, Jacob is pretty interesting. At sixteen he seems unduly cynical about his family, the world and his place in both. With Abe’s encouragement he spent a joyful, if somewhat removed, childhood dreaming of world exploration and intrepid exhibitions. While his parents were quick to squash what they saw as unrealistic aims, he remains entirely disenchanted with his life and certainly with his future. Abe, to him, has become a rambling old man worthy of care but certainly not of faith. However, over the course of the novel, Jacob’s life changes completely and so does his character. As possibilities open before him, he becomes less detached – ironically, in terms of the novel’s plot, he starts to live in the now as opposed to merely existing through tales of the past.

While Abe is not physically about for much of the story, his character is an overwhelmingly strong presence throughout. The story of his life is entirely gripping, in its wildly varying aspects and his relationship to both his families often heart-breaking. The rest of Jacob’s family are fairly lightly sketched. Jacob has little time for them and one often suspects that his narration lacks objectivity, particularly in terms of his mother. Later, though, his relationship with his father is explored in terms of his father’s relationship with Abe – this aspect of the novel is sketched with a skilled yet light hand and is both sad and touching. To talk of any other characters in this book would be to spoil the reading experience for those of you yet to partake, suffice to say that these are a group unlike any I have ever come across and are entirely delightful and unnerving to spend time with.

The plot of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is as wonderfully bizarre as its title. Moving from the balmy heat of Florida to the somewhat foggy climes of a small Welsh island Ransom Riggs manages, amazingly, to avoid any incongruity with both place settings oddly complementing the other while also giving Jacob a vital sense of displacement (strangely, in both). As the story progresses it becomes increasingly surreal yet never loses pace, nor becomes confusing (despite some highly original and unfamiliar mythology). Both Jacob and the mysterious Miss Peregrine have such a terribly matter of fact turn of phrase that what should seem strange instead makes an odd sort of sense. The story is, like Abe’s, both charmingly magical and yet unrelentingly sinister and the juxtaposition of fantastical horrors with the very real monsters of history is both clever and chilling.

It is impossible to talk about this book without mentioning the way that it looks. Printed on gorgeous, thick stock it feels amazing - this is one of these beautiful books that really sticks two fingers up at the Kindle generation (while still be available in both formats). Scattered through the pages are the oddest selection of vintage photographs, each illustrating the story in their oddly beautiful way. What makes these images extraordinary is their very validity – these are not newly posed, nor photoshopped into oblivion but a real window into the past. It’s impossible to separate the story and the images – they have an entirely symbiotic relationship and by using both Ransom Riggs has created not just an exceptional debut novel but also a disconcerting work of art.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is unlike any book I’ve ever read, yet embodies aspects of many that I admire. There are shades of A Series of Unfortunate Events and Alice Through The Looking Glass in the story telling and similarities to the recent A Monster Calls and The Sky Is Everywhere in the realisation of the book as an object but ultimately Ransom Riggs has written a story that is entirely its own – and absolutely one that you all should read. I will be interviewing Ransom later in the month and really cannot wait to find out more about this books genesis – I suspect its story is fascinating. Until then, get your hands on a copy – Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is a title that I highly recommend.

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is available now. Thank you to Quirk Books for sending me this title to review.

4 comments:

We Heart YA said...

Oh yay! The book trailer piqued our curiosity for this novel, but we weren't really sure if it would live up. Glad to hear that it does! Especially since we liked The Sky Is Everywhere, we think this could be right up our alley.

Thanks for writing such a thorough and thoughtful review!!

Raimy-rawr said...

wow great review! I cant wait to start this one! I may have to push it up the pile after this review!

Lauren said...

This review has blown my mind! I'd been a little curious about this one before, but what I love about the way you've described it is that it sounds like one of those reads that's an experience as well as a book. Sounds like a must-read.

Clover said...

Oh gosh, how much do I want to read this book now that I've read your review!