I know it must be a wee bit strange to include this in our Diversity theme but since our definition of multiculturalism transcends race and nationalities, and also includes the voices of the silenced, the outcast, the outliers, those in the fringes of the community, I thought that I could still manage to squeeze this title in.
It took awhile for me to get into this book. In fact, I bought this novel two years back and had every intention of reading it then, but for some reason, it didn’t quite reel me in the first time I read the first few pages. I vowed to go back to it again, though, especially since I chanced upon the book trailer for the second book, Hollow City.
While reading this novel, I was also watching the TV series True Detective. I suppose it was the combination of watching the series and reading this book before I fall asleep at night that heightened my senses, and made me really appreciate the story more than usual.
Peculiar Photographs. There are many layers to this narrative, not the least of which would be the strange black and white pictures that are apparently authentic and vintage found photographs. The pictures are largely unaltered and came from the personal archives of collectors who, according to Ransom Riggs
“have spent years and countless hours hunting through giant bins of unsorted snapshots at flea markets and antiques malls and yard sales to find a transcendent few, rescuing images of historical significance and arresting beauty from obscurity” (p. 350)
I did not even realize that the photographs were ‘real’ in that sense until after I read the entire novel, which rendered an even deeper layer of creepiness to the entire story. What Ransom Riggs essentially did was to piece together these random photographs in a strange mosaic of sorts and came up with a coherent yet haunting narrative.
The Power of Book Trailers. More than anything else, it was this powerful book trailer that drew me into the story despite the fact that the first several chapters were so-so for me.
The story revolves around the young boy in the book trailer who is depicted to be an adolescent in the story, 16 year old Jacob who witnessed his grandfather’s gruesome murder. This traumatic incident made him revisit his grandfather’s old photographs and the stories that came along with them, which Jacob dismissed as nothing but fantastical tales and a product of his grandfather’s Holocaust-ridden memories. It was when Jacob journeyed into a remote island off the coast of Wales to find Miss Peregrine and her home that the story really turned for me.
Here is another Youtube clip of Ransom Riggs trying to find that “home” in Europe:
I just had to share that trailer yet again because reading that part truly gave me the chills. I can distinctly remember putting the book down and telling my husband how absolutely creeped out I was.
Who are the Peculiars? This is, perhaps, at the very heart of the novel. The notion of the peculiars. At the risk of sharing some spoilers, allow me to quote from Miss Peregrine herself and her description of what they are like. I find that this quote shows how apt this novel is for our current reading theme:
“There are peculiars all over the world,” she said, “though our numbers are much diminished from what they once were. Those who remain live in hiding, as we do.” She lapsed into a soft regretful voice. “There was a time when we could mix openly with common folk. In some corners of the world we were regarded as shamans and mystics, consulted in times of trouble.
A few cultures have retained this harmonious relationship wth our people, though only in places where both modernity and the major religions have failed to gain a foothold, such as the black-magic island of Ambrym in the New Hebrides. But the larger world turned against us long ago. The Muslims drove us out. The Christians burned us as witches. Even the pagans of Wales and Ireland eventually decided that we were all malevolent faeries and shape-shifting ghosts.” (p. 150)
What they are exactly, I shall leave for you readers to discover. Suffice it to say that Jacob who seems like your typical teenage boy, is one of the peculiars too. Then again, perhaps you are too.
There is time travel (bits and pieces seem quite confusing), the slightest hint of romance (not enough to turn a young boy off), existential queries about one’s place in the world and where (or who) one should be. This book, though, is not for the faint of heart. It can be quite reflective though as one traces the family dynamics in the story, and what it feels like being forever an outsider, continually being hunted for what one is. The ending though felt a bit rushed. It could just be me, but it was less than a satisfactory ending, probably because there is a second book yet to be published. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to reading the second novel too. Here are the book trailers of Hollow City. Enjoy!
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Published by Quirk Books, 2011. Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.