‘Miss Peregrine’s’ has been on my radar for quite some time, but as anyone with an out of control to-read pile can testify, sometimes you just have to wait until the mood is right and the stars align. Said alignment seemed to come together for me as a result of two auspicious signs converging at once:
- Seeing the trailer for Burton and Goldman’s upcoming filming adaption (enough said).
- Another Quirk title, ‘My Best Friends Exorcism’ by Grady Hendrix, spectacularly grabbing my full attention with its promise of 80/90s nostalgia cum Heathers cum horror-fest (recently been reminiscing about Christopher Pike and other cool YA retro memories).
You can see why, with this heady mix why I HAD to start reading (and pre-ordering Hendrix). Thanks Quirk Books, seems like you have your finger well and truly on the pulse.
Page one in to Peregrines, and I knew I was onto something special. Not only did it start with a real assured sense of confidence about the story it had to tell but it also littered its prose with the curious kind of bombs that you know are going to pepper your communications, in the form of phrases and words that even you a certified dictionary reader haven’t yet encountered! Even if some of the subject matter, must necessarily take a dark turn, it does not mean you cannot have fun with the words you chose to convey meaning or inject humour into the proceedings. The piss/ priest hole mix up being a prime example or even ‘a purgatory of beige waiting rooms’. It also held the sense of the unsual that ‘The Book Thief’ conjured as soon as you started reading- and that magic doesn’t happen often.
While the clue was already there to see, in the operative word of the title, and is one of the novels many great strengths, it was the loving relationship displayed between Jacob and his Grandfather that really suckered me in. If you have had an adoring Grandparent, that has devoted the most precious thing to you (Time), then you will be equally warmed to the novels central plot driver: how this relationship evolved and reaffirms itself in the host of changes that are flung their way. The novel celebrates this bond and it’s informative influences as Jacob turns from boy to man: even in the face of learning the truth about what his world looks like and the horrors it contains. There was something that deeply touched my soul, as the novel progressed and it became clear to Jacob that his Grandad was still always the man he thought he was and that he shared more than a familial bond, with Portman Snr.
While Portman and Portman carry most of the emotional load of this magical story, we must not ignore some of the many ways that it uses imagery to convey its meaning. Clearly, this is a visually driven and inspired book. It is fascinating to read as it allows us to more closely examine the usually hidden relationship between author and inspiration, through its inclusion of a series of black and white images that support many of the more intriguing elements of the story. You can see exactly how Miss Peregrine became a shape-shifting bird of prey- when you look at the image of a rifle with said birds shadow hanging over it. It really is fascinating to explore how Rigg’s imagination took such isolated, quirky images, drew them together and created a cohesive narrative full of vibrancy and interest. He really does have some skill because he could easily have over complicated things- but as with his narrative, keeping ideas simple and in a solid framework, he truly does succeed in telling a novel story. This then allows inspiration to flow from objects and experiences- such as Cairns and bog men, why people wear sunglasses. I could go on. How would you use such seemingly mundane starting points to weave a story, that captures a similar level of interest?
So if you like allegorical, coming of age stories that use magic and mystery to teach you universal truths: go to Narnia or Hogwarts. If you like yours to do something truly unusual, in a creative and quirky way: grab ‘Miss Peregrine’ with both hands and do not let go. Let it intrigue you, amuse you, scare you and warm you. Relish in all of its peculiar elements and embrace your own and love your Grandad that little but more, if he was a loving and supportive influence, he is always with you.