The attempt to combine images of photographs, letters, and drawings in telling the story of Jacob Portman and his search for the truth about his grandfather, Ransom Riggs creates an aesthetically pleasing and innovative novel. Still the story itself is not exactly unprecedented in the world of the fantasy genre. What makes the novel readable does not have to do with the prose or plot line; rather, the reader is almost tricked into paging through the text in order to view the next peculiar image awaiting him or her. Although the idea that Jacob’s grandfather, Abe, has left him clues to hidden secrets that only Jacob can decipher to find the answers he seeks about his grandfather’s mysterious existence, the answers to the riddles are too easily discovered for both the reader and the narrator.
In presenting the reader with photo’s Abe has supposedly taken from a magical island he lived on as an orphaned child, the author intends to develop intrigue on the part of the reader that Jacob, the storyteller, experiences. As with any tale of peculiar or magical people, especially one which is supported by strange images, the reader wants to know more. Why does Abe own photos of a girl levitating and a young boy holding a boulder in the air with one arm? The reader and Jacob sense that the pictures may be altered or fabricated. The visions Jacob soon begins having of similar images could be real, or as his parents and psychologist pose, they are figments of his imagination. The question of what is ‘real” or ‘true’ versus things people merely want to believe despite the unlikelihood of the existence of the entities or ideas is a theme that is posed throughout the novel.
Even after the narrator discovers that his grandfather told him the truth, other characters question their reality. After Jacob convinces his parents of the need for him to travel to the small island in Wales where his grandfather’s clues lead him, the reader questions Jacob’s experiences; because, the author plants a seed of doubt in regards to the possibility of children who never age and monsters. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the novel can be attributed to the reader’s ability to choose sides: is it real or illusionary? The images included with the text encourage the reader to participate in the questioning of events as Jacob must do himself.
The problem with the believability of the story does not lie in that fact that it includes ideas that most people consider impossible such as time travel, monsters, and magic. Rather, the execution of the ideas is weak at times. Even with impossible ideas, as a reader, I tend to find myself considering the intricacies of the ideas presented. It may be acceptable; hypothetically, that the characters are able to use a loop in time to live forever. But, what happened before the loop was created? More importantly, how did the characters escape the disaster that would have killed them all on the very first day the loop began if they had not begun to travel in time until the day of the disaster? Wouldn’t they have been killed before the loop could be erected? These ideas are not discussed, and the author only elaborates in bits and pieces. The narrator is also seemingly unaware of various occurrences in the novel that the reader is already able to infer. For example, when Jacob finds the entry way to the time loop and is transported to September 3rd, 1940, he doesn’t realize what has happened, despite different people and surroundings on the island. Still, there is something redeeming in the inclusion of visual portions of the text that encourage the reader to continue Jacob’s journey with him.
For the most part, the photos the author describes as being proof of the existence of people the world has forgotten, are necessary, beautiful, and hauntingly deceptive. At the same time, some the images seem to be thrown into the story where they don’t fit. There is a photograph of a little boy pouting on the ground wearing a bunny costume. The author adds this image to his story of Jacob’s father waiting for Abe to go trick-or-treating. Although the story is included to explain that Abe was an absent father, there is no need to add an extra portion of a discussion between father and son in order to include a picture. Towards the end of the novel, more pictures that feel inauthentic or unnecessary are added for effect. While most of the photos add a thrill, some of them take away from the reliability of the tale.
This book is beautiful right down to the chapter divisions made with paper resembling old wallpaper; the melancholy images are memorable. The novel is meant to be a compellation of images and prose, so it may not be fair to separate the two. Still, without the images, the story is unexceptional. Whether the images redeem the rest of the piece is for the individual reader to determine. For me, the images were not enough to end my reading with a positive conclusion.
Final Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
Book Trailer for of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children images