Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (by Ransom Riggs)

31 10 2011

In his much-praised and highly-hyped debut Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs has created an enchanting fairytale-like world fusing the present-day world of his main character Jacob with the memories and vintage photos of Jacob’s grandfather’s past. There’s no doubt that the photos are what will draw the reader in: they are unique, authentic, a little bit out of the ordinary… However, it’s up to Riggs to make sure there is more to this debut novel than just a bunch of vintage photos of eccentric (or peculiar) looking people.

The ‘Before’ of the book (Jacob’s ‘situation’) is definitely a great start of this book. The cat raised her expectations quite a bit because it seemed that Jacob would be an interesting protagonist to follow: definitely troubled (not just your average poor little rich kid), yet with a heart in the right place and witty to boot. The idea of trying to figure out his troubled present by investigating the photos of his grandfather’s past  set up an intriguing quest for his own identity to a mysterious island in Wales of all places, completely cut off from society in space, but also in time – as will become clear early on in his quest.

The ‘After’ of the book, on the other hand, did not exactly live up to the high expectations raised by the ‘Before’. Yes, the story is ‘different’. Yes, the characters in Miss Peregrine’s home are a little bit bizarre. Yes, the book is unique in its layout and incorporation of vintage photos… However, the cat was a bit let down by what could and should have been an investigation into what makes human beings unique yet similar at the same time. This book, with this set of characters, is the ideal opportunity to investigate la condition humaine… Instead, we’re left with a fantastical adventure story with a few mysterious characters, that doesn’t even get a pay-off at the end, because it’s so obvious a first book in a series. The cat was led to believe (by the ‘Before’ of the novel) that she would get an insight into the psyche of the protagonist, that she would be taken on a wondrous trip of melancholic musings about the need to remember and how the past influences the present. Granted, pretty high hopes… and unfortunately the stakes were a bit too high…

That is not to say that Ransom Riggs doesn’t know how to write. On the contrary, his language is evocative, articulate even (Ransom Riggs definitely knows what a thesaurus is); the story of his main characters is engaging enough to keep you going to the end. If you have no expectations about this book, this book might work. It’s an enchanting tale of fantasy and wonder, reminiscent of the works of Lemony Snicket. A charming debut, no question about that either, but at times the photos, which were meant to draw readers in, caused an awkwardness in the narrative flow (you can just feel “Oh, I have another peculiar photo, and I really have to fit it in here”), and often stood in the way of character development (descriptive rather than analytical) and a richness and depth that this story’s plotline deserved.  All in all, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children reads like a debut, but luckily there’s room to grow…

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