Friday, 2 September 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs

With its simple cover illustrated with an old black-and-white photograph, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children can be immediately identified as a strange, spooky book. Apart from the lack of fancy artwork or graphics, there seems to be something a bit uncanny about the girl. Perhaps it's just the obvious oldness of the picture, being blurry, unfocused, not sharp like modern photography. Maybe it's the title. Perhaps it's the fact that the little girl's feet are not quite touching the ground...

Miss Peregrine is a unique book in that author Ransom Riggs has illustrated his eerie fantasy story with real vintage photographs found and rescued by collectors; photographs that, like the girl on the cover, seem not quite right. The photographs themselves are fascinating, and I would have happily bought this book for them alone. But around the photo collection, Riggs has woven a dark, twisted narrative based around an orphanage that is not as it seems.

After the death of his beloved grandfather, American teenager Jacob goes to an island off Wales. He hopes to see the children's home where his grandfather spent the war years after his escape from the Nazis in mainland Europe. What Jacob discovers, at first, is a ruin. No one has lived in Miss Peregrine's Home for decades. As he explores deeper, he discovers stranger truths about Miss Peregrine and the children in her care than he could ever have dreamed of.

This book drew me in straight away, with a strong character in Jacob's grandfather, and the mystery of his death, and his past life. The ruined orphanage is a classic gothic ruined house, thick with atmosphere and unfinished business, on the borderline between uncanny-unexplained and fantasy. I felt that the book was at its best at this point, before the secret of Miss Peregrine's was made clear. Even when the truth began to unfold, I was impressed with the originality and unexpected explanation of a ghostly situation.

However, once the scene had been set and the story started to get under way, I confess I found myself losing interest. I felt that Miss Peregrine became less remarkable when the danger, the villains and monsters, were identified. The genre seemed to switch from atmospheric ghost story (of a sort) to a much more generic teen fantasy adventure, and it lost its grip on me. It is set up for the possibility of a sequel, but I feel it would be more effective if it were kept concise and unique.

3 comments:

  1. I read this a month or so ago, and pretty much felt the same way as you.

    I loved the creepiness and originality to start with, but then it just got boring and lost its way a little. I just didn't think it would be half as 'quirky' without the photographs, and books should be able to stand on their own feet without a gimmick.

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  2. This sounds quite good, fantastic review!

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  3. yes, I agree. The first half was much more interesting to me. I also liked the grandfather a lot. I almost wish we had followed his story instead of Jacob's.

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