A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children;, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here - one of whom was his own grandfather - were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow - impossible though it seems - they may still be alive. [summary from amazon.co.uk]
Upon inspection of the cover and blurb of Miss Peregrine, I hoped for two things. The first being that the story would be just as eerie and captivating as it was made out to be, and the second being that it would not awaken any latent fear of despondent children or undisclosed figures entombed in seedy black and white images. Luckily for me (but not quite so fortunate for my sleeping patterns, which lay in tatters after the reading), both of said aforementioned factors did in fact come true. But let’s not fixate on the latter, partly for the sake of the quickly mounting pile of bags under my eyes, and mostly because the book was GOOD and merits a discussion.
The concept in itself is fascinating – the entire novel is based around jaded photographs children looking either petulant or very, very threatening. The fact that the author has somehow managed to pull this enchanting, gripping, and also rather sinister world and story from these pictures that are enchanting and tantalizing in their own right is amazing, and if you have any phobias akin to mine (namely children, children, FREAKIN’ CHILDREN), probably just as terrifying. What’s more is the fact that those aforementioned pictures were integrated into the story so skilfully and really helped to build a kind of “big brother is watching you, but it’s not your older brother, no, and nor is it the enthralled eyes of the vaguely sadistic public, nope, IT’S AN ELDRITCH FUCKING MONSTER” atmosphere. It really brought something new to the whole Lovecraftian debacle. A therapist, for example. I know, ground-breaking, isn’t it?
About that atmosphere, it’s a topic that I can only begin to approach with the announcement of “WHAT A GOOD” and without much of a follow up. But I’ll try to remedy that. Even before Jacob was stamped as completely, terrifically bonkers, it still felt like this book was taking place under a storm cloud. Throughout the novel, right up until the climax, it felt like a kettle waiting to boil. The new kind, the type that makes no noise so when you’re water is sufficiently boiled you don’t know and just forget about it so you have to re-enter the vicious, never-ending cycle of boiling water, and subsequently forgetting it and reboiling it over and over. Anyway, I’m sure that I had a point before I went off on that tangent, and that was that the novel was fantastic at upholding a very tense and clinical and grey tone – almost as black and white as the photographs as it had been plucked out off. The novel did a great job at mimicking a shade of Lovecraft - in both its atmosphere and its villains. Tentacle monsters! I am totally earnest in my scream of fantastic. Really.
I might have mentioned the characters, or at least the menacing children in passing. Now, whilst Jacob was a fantastic character, the skies dictate that it is far too early to talk about him yet. So, regarding those children, or the titular peculiar children, or whatever fancy technical name they had been christened that I’ve forgotten - they were bizarre. That’s to be expected when you’re shut away in a stable time loop, and are completely aware, and somehow simultaneously okay with the fact. But they were delightful, and their lives and stories and even their morning routines proved interesting to read about, especially if said aforementioned morning routine takes place on the ceiling. Some even had the fortune to develop, which is fantastic even if it only extended to their wearing clothes on a regular basis.
One such character would be Emma – she was a step up from the putting their clothes on in the morning, coming full clothed, charmingly angry and totally xenophobic of anyone not from her personal time loop. By the end of the novel, her anger had boiled down to a near Zen state, and had left only the remnants of bravery and more balls than the Olympic basketball team. And whilst this transformation probably wouldn’t have come about had the power of love (such a phrase was not mentioned because it had far more illustrious things to be doing, like putting uranium into the posterior’s of innocuous woodland creatures to turn them into creatures after Lovecraft’s own heart) this book has not been present, that’s excusable, because if her comrades had to put up with her bitterness for much longer, they might have drowned her.
The star of the show here, though, is Jacob. Who is not, by the way, Miss Peregrine, who you might have thought would be the star of the show. Throughout the novel, he had an almost absurd number of bad days, socked exactly one monster in the jaw with a pair of scissors and grew about three metaphorical inches. As someone stuck in such an inopportune situation, I thought he reacted really humanely. Or, at least, as realistically as you can act when your affliction isn’t depression so much as it is REAL TENTACLE MONSTERS. I’m not sure if there’s even a name for that condition. Needless to say, he handled it well. Oh, and he made out with Emma, which I thought was a little creepy at first considering Emma had once stuck her smooched his grandfather in a way that was far from too much sherry at a family Christmas party kind of way. But in the end, it wasn’t too bad. Not painful at all.
The plot also deserves some attention! Twisty and gasp and crazy muttering inspiring, foreshadowing was its middle name. Quite ingenious at times, rather devastating at others, but in the end it proved to have just enough relief for our poor, frazzled brains. I liked how the actual story related stuff balanced out with the whole character development and interaction. We need to introduce a monster? Sure thing, we’re going to do it WHILST ROMANTIC BONDING ALSO OCCURS. It was a joyful moment and it worked pretty well for the rest of the novel, too.
In the way of books, this one was a keeper. That’s what the New York Times thought, at least, as it clutched it on its list for something like twenty weeks. And who am I to disagree with a newspaper with a font smaller than I can detect? It’s certainly a different novel. It’s an enjoyable novel. Clearly it’s a novel that inspires articulation in people. It’s a novel that provokes all kinds of thoughts and makes people write down all sorts of adjectives, but the true question here is: when will there be a sequel?