BOOK REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

A Novel by Ransom Riggs

 

Open the pages of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and don’t be surprised if you are wrapped in a whiff of peat bogs and ocean spray, of moldering wallpaper and something enticingly, eerily strange. Debut novelist Ransom Riggs has created the beginnings of what will surely be a series of deliciously haunting fantasies.

Miss Peregrine’s is rich in a mythology of Rigg’s wild creation; wonderfully conceived metaphors for class conflict, growing up, and looming fascist world domination; and the most fascinating cast of characters since J.R.R. Tolkien stepped into the hobbit hole of his vast imagination. All, illustrated with the bizarre treasures of a vintage photograph collection, the images of which come alive as the book’s more curious characters.

Rigg’s protagonist, however, has a familiar malaise: Jacob Portman (“Yakob” to his Polish grandfather Abe, a Jewish WWII refugee and then fighter) is as disaffected and dismayed with his 16-year-old life in Florida as any literary Holden Caulfield—with the advantages of a contemporary cell phone. Jacob spends the first two chapters of the book reciting, in hilarious, anguished and self-deprecating detail, the miseries of being the upper-class, freakish son of a vacuous upper-class mother and a bookish kept-man father, who is chronically unengaged. Thus establishing his life not worth living, Jacob is on the miserable verge of inherited family-corporation ennui, when deadly and seemingly supernatural violence shifts his attention from his navel to a world well beyond his suburban existence, beyond, even, the Welsh island where his grandfather escaped the war as a boy.

And so Jacob’s excellently peculiar adventure begins with the words, “I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.” He discovers his grandfather’s secret world, the illusive magic of time, and what it truly means to be different in a way that transports him from privileged banality to the vulnerable side of prejudice and hate.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children portends a new novelist with an unusual eye and an unusual gift for sharing his vision of the world, a world in parts funny, sorrowful, political, thrilling—and fantastic. The book’s trailer, along with a documentary short on its making—both shot by Riggs—effectively conveys the tone and texture of the book and a hint of its author. Both videos can be viewed at www.ransomriggs.com.

The only disappointment is, of all things, the book’s binding, which, after only one admittedly ham-handed reading, is already loose. But that is a minor consideration, given the significant joys of the book.

Rigg’s success has been bolstered by lots of pre-release praise and sale of the film rights to 20th Century Fox, and a quick place on the New York Times best-seller list. His particular blend of fantasy, foreign adventure and photographic imagery reflects Riggs’ background as a filmmaker and travel writer. And his first book, The Sherlock Holmes Handbook, a quirky guide to sleuthing, suggests he is much more than a one-book wonder, as does the stage well set by his first novel for the launch of a series.

Indeed, Miss Peregrine’s concludes with a prelude to more and the luring line, “We rowed faster.” One hopes that reflects Riggs’ writing schedule.

Crossposted by the North County Times.