By Wallis Bell
Two years ago, I hit a milestone in life. I left the days of being a teenager behind and fell flat on my face over the threshold of my twenties. To sooth the pain of this occasion, I found asylum in my local Waterstone’s, where I bought the book I’d had my eye on for months – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
As I inspected the cover before gleefully paying for the book, I saw – next to the little girl dressed in what seemed like late thirties clothing, who I soon learned to be little Olive – that there was a golden circle advertising that the book was being made into a film, which I’ll get to eventually. With this in mind, I literally raced home, leaving all other duties to go and spend the rest of the day in this mysterious, creepy world thought up by the genius Ransom Riggs.
Starting off rather comically, we immediately learn of Jacob Portman’s mundane life, we see him struggling to occupy himself as he spends his time outside of school trying to get fired from the store clerk job he got only through being in line to inherit the entire store’s empire. From here, we segue into meeting Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, who we learn straight away is suffering from what seems to be dementia. As Jacob goes to his grandfather’s aid, we see him change from a cocky, rich teen to a shut off, embarrassed and depressed individual. We also learn around this point in the story that Jacob is often bullied, reportedly having to pay off his only friend to fight bullies for him. It is here that one of the main themes of the story is established. Mental health is something that is talked about to a great extent in this book, both in plot and the underlying themes which at some points intertwine. From Abraham’s dementia and the journey of Jacob’s depression, to the anxious and restless minds of the Peculiar Children. Personally, I find the tracking of Jacob’s depression to be on of the best I’ve read since The Yellow Wallpaper. As someone who has suffered from the disease, I felt Jacob’s struggle to be not only familiar but also comforting. Ransom Riggs’ documentation of the process of learning to live with depression is outstanding. Although it is a brief few chapters long, it stays with you throughout the story as you truly believe in Jacob, growing almost proud of him when he begins to figure out his disease. As for Abraham’s dementia, I won’t dwell on it for too long, as I don’t know much about the disease and I’m yet unsure whether Abraham actually suffered from it, as we learn the “monsters” he sees are in fact real. One aspect of Abraham’s dementia I will comment on is the effect it has on Jacob’s dad and his reaction to watching his own father’s mental state and stability appear to disintegrate. From the get-go, we see Jacob’s dad as the more tentative parent, as Jacob’s mum is usually presented with an air of vanity, floating down from what appears to be a tall, ivory tower. It is often stated in the book that Jacob’s dad has many an unfinished ‘project’ on his desk, mainly surrounding ornithological studies. However, with his dad’s quiet, almost closed off attitude, we can assume that these are also hints towards his own depression, possibly brought on by the thought of his own father’s dwindling mental state. Another hint towards his depression is when both he and Jacob are on the island of Cairnholm. A few times we read of him staying at the bar in the pub until late at night, apparently consuming one too many while researching his latest project. We can assume this is merely an accident, or even an approach to letting his hair down, however, we are soon told of an altercation between Jacob and his dad after he has had too much to drink. In this, Jacob’s dad seems to offload a lot of unresolved tension between himself and Abraham onto Jacob, implying that Abraham always preferred Jacob. When the alcohol has worn off him, he seems to return to his closed off state, possibly embarrassed about the previous night as Jacob leaves the pub the next morning. Once again, this is a part of the story in which I felt a personal connection, this time to Jacob’s dad. Watching a loved one deteriorate can be heartbreaking, but the worst part can often be staying bright and optimistic for others. The representation of what Jacob’s dad goes through is so well done, it stirred up a lot of emotions in me. However, seeing it shown so accurately reminded me that it’s not uncommon, it’s not bad to feel these things. With Jacob’s dad off-loading onto him as he drank at the bar, and seeing how it affected Jacob, actually pushed me to find healthy ways to let off some steam. As for his unfinished projects, I took a look at the tasks I had left on my own desk months ago; unfinished paintings, books and a lot of important college application work left to collect dust.
As well as personal reflection, Riggs also proposes an entirely new concept of story telling, by including photographs of real people, found in curiosity shops, flea markets, car boot sales and more. From these photographs, he takes the inspiration for his characters, saving pages and pages of descriptive text (which in my case will only be forgotten two pages later) for a few pages every chapter or so for photos of exactly how the characters look and dress, some even showing their peculiarity. I find this approach to be a great twist on modern storytelling, especially in the YA fantasy genre as sometimes with fantasy novels characters can be lost due to their imaginative appearances, therefore losing some of the appreciation they deserve. Despite this, I have also surveyed for a general consensus between my peers and family on Riggs’ approach. Turns out, not everyone is a fan. A few seem to think that in providing a visual guide, practically compares itself to that of a children’s book and many, for the same reason find it insulting. Nevertheless, the good does indeed outweigh the bad as many peers commended the strange and compelling photographs, admitting that it adds a new element of mystery and almost creepiness to the story. I will also argue that to see the photographs on the page before you, just as Jacob himself looked at them, immerses you into his situation.
Now, onto the film trailer – which I held little hope for. I always had a bit of a pessimistic view of film adaptations. Being a fan of Harry Potter, I felt like I had already experienced the best film adaptation. Despite this, I gave it a go.
My disappointment lies in the following.
I searched YouTube for the trailer of the Tim Burton film set for release later this year. Now, I didn’t have high hopes to begin with. Tim Burton has a unique style which would demand a little bit of editing to the story. However, I was not prepared for the monstrosity I was about to see. Firstly, I’m not sure if it’s just me but I always assumed Miss Peregrine to be older than what she appears in the film. At least mid-forties. Also, where was her limp? From this point on I knew to let my hopes wither away, if the titular character is all wrong, it doesn’t hold out much hope for the others. Secondly, it appears that Emma is now Olive, as she floats after slipping off what should be Olive’s lead-lined shoes, and floating up to a tree. As well as having the ability to breathe under water, a peculiarity that appeared out of nowhere. Can one have two peculiarities? Maybe so. However, I see no reason to change her original fire peculiarity, which suited her temper and on a dime attitude perfectly, to one which seems to turn her into an entirely different character. Finally, the thing about this trailer that almost infuriated me, was how it seemed to focus not on Jacob’s mission to get closure and/or vengeance of his grandfather’s death and discover who he truly is but instead it focuses on what seems to be a lovely and bright love story between Emma and Jacob, which in reality is just a sub-plot and – from what I’ve read of the series so far – is in no way crucial to the actual plot.
To conclude this rambled, lost review, I will say that this is probably the most reader-inclusive book I have ever read, with it’s accurate descriptions of the characters’ struggles which comes from what must be real-life experience to achieve such reality, to the Abraham’s photo collection, as well as the photographs we find as Jacob does, each one leading you deeper and deeper into the pages as you hop back and forth between the realities of Cairnholm and the mysteries that envelope it. I truly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the rest of the series. I feel that in no way did it deserve to be butchered by a film that appears to change almost everything it can to appeal to the masses, seemingly uncaring if it loses all substance. However, in saying that, I will probably watch the film at some point and you can expect a full review when I have done so. For now, I’m not holding my breath.