Saturday, August 17, 2013

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

I often wonder where authors get their inspiration.  With some historical fiction, it’s obviously related directly to a person, place or time; with contemporary fiction, it’s often in response to something in our modern world – again, a person, place or time; sometimes, though, a book is so out of left field that the inspiration isn’t quite as plain to see, and one can marvel at the creativity of the author.  And then there are authors like Ransom Riggs; his inspiration for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was quite obviously old-fashion ‘curiosity’ photos, and yet I’m still entirely in awe of his creativity.  

These ‘curiosity’ photos (I don’t know what else you’d call them) were done in the age of magnesium flares and longer exposure times, and the examples he’s pulled together are odd and creepy.  I’ve heard of people who haunt flea markets and swap meets looking for just such examples of this old fashion hobby/art, and Riggs apparently found his inspiration in these pieces.  What is so interesting is that Riggs pulled from the collections of various people a set of photos so odd and un-related, and then weaved them into a plot, a set of characters, and a landscape entirely new and dynamic.  Riggs is to be commended for his efforts and abilities.

It’s odd that I don’t start with a summary of the plot, but in this case, the plot (and characters) as so dependent on the images presented in the work, and I had to start there.  The plot, however, is just as interesting as the inspiration.  In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, we’re introduced to the main character Jacob and his grandfather right away, and this relationship provides the impetus for the rest of the story.  As a child, Jacob’s grandfather tells him about the years he spent growing up in an orphanage during the Second World War; peppered through these stories is enough information to make the reader (and Jacob) think that Jacob’s grandfather has constructed an elaborate worldview in order to hide from the horror of the Nazi regime.  When Jacob’s grandfather is killed in unusual circumstances, however, Jacob begins to question just how much of his grandfather’s stories were real.  The rest of the book is given over to Jacob’s quest to find the truth, and his response to the reality he finds himself in.

On a whole, Riggs has created a dynamic and engaging character in Jacob.  He’s funny, clever and witty.  However, he’s only supposed to be 16.  The Jacob that Riggs has crafted reads more like a world-weary 21 year old that has already had the reality shock of having to buy toilet paper for himself.  There’s a disconnect between the supposed age of the character and his actions; if, however, one chooses to put this fact to the back of their mind, then Jacob is a treat to read about and makes for one hell of an interesting and engaging main character.  The rest of the supporting cast of characters are equally engaging and dynamic; from villain to love interest, all the characters bring something important and interesting to the tale.

It’s very clear from the final chapter that Riggs has set himself up for a series of books on Miss Peregrine’s world (which, I find I can’t write about – the reader should really experience it for themselves; I was so caught off-guard by the reality that Riggs created that I would hate to ruin that reveal for others).  In fact, my copy of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children includes the first chapter of the next book: Hollow City.  I’m really looking forward to continuing with these books – Riggs’ writing style is fast-paced and interesting, and coupled with his unique ability to be inspired by ‘curiosity’ photos, I’m looking forward to seeing what else he can come up with in the future.

So, final verdict?  I’d say read this book.  It’s something new and different that I haven’t seen before, and it’s so well executed that it’s definitely worth checking out.  Riggs’ inspiration of the curiosity photos, and his inclusion of so many peppered through the text, make for a quick-paced and interesting read.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for anything else Riggs publishes in the future, and I’ll definitely be snapping up the sequel(s?) to this book.

1 comment:

  1. Do you know of any other author's that have taken a similar approach at finding inspiration?