I finally, finally got around to reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children after being on my library’s hold list for two months. Sadly, I was a bit disappointed with this book, but did appreciate the immense creativity of the whole endeavor.
Miss Peregrine is a unique little book where a narrative is constructed around a series of vintage photographs which are mostly odd or unsettling. The story itself is about a boy named Jacob. Jacob grows up on his grandfather’s tales and photographs of his childhood in a home for children with peculiar talents (like super-strength or levitation or premonitions). Jacob’s grandfather dies under mysterious circumstances and Jacob goes on a quest to discover more about his grandfather’s past. Along the way, he uncovers some very strange truths about himself and the world around him.
The story has lots of twists and turns and could be a little spooky, but I think it would be much scarier on screen. However, it didn’t really wow me and I’m not really sure why. It just wasn’t striking any chords, I guess.
All that said, though, I was impressed with the creativity of constructing a narrative based on photographs. We talked a lot about photographs in a couple of my classes in graduate school and I highly recommend you check out Print the Legend by Martha Sandweiss if you are interested in the history of photography and the use of photography in the practice of history. Sandweiss argues that photographs are unique in that they don’t in and of themselves tell a story (though this has changed as photography has evolved) and that they are troublesome historical sources because they are easy to manipulate (not just in the Photoshop sense of things, but also in the way you can choose what to photograph and what is photographed may itself be manipulated). I couldn’t stop thinking about Sandweiss’s arguments as I read this book. Riggs is just imposing a narrative on these vintage photographs– they don’t have a story of their own that can be ascertained just by looking at them. Riggs makes some fantastical guesses, but the real motives and stories behind these photographs are likely lost to time.
The photographs are incorporated both as objects in the story and as illustrations of the story. However, something fell a little flat to me. I am perhaps used to much more analysis coupled with photographs in books I’m reading, so there were times that the photographs felt a little like convenient props or simple illustrations. Like… here is the description of Miss Peregrine and then you turn the page and there’s a lady that looks like that description. I guess I would have liked to hear more about some of the characters or the photographs.
My mind wanders A LOT when I start thinking about the use of photographs in fiction… like I wonder if the use of photographs as illustrations limits the imagination. I haven’t read too much fiction with illustrations, but whenever I see a movie based on a book, I have difficulty reconciling how things looked on screen in comparison with how things looked in my head. I mean, illustrations and movies tell us how a certain setting or character looks and doesn’t give us the same leeway our imaginations do. What would my experience of Miss Peregrine have been if I couldn’t see the photographs? Might I have been more scared by the story? Could I still imagine the peculiar children in the same way?
What do you think about illustrations or photographs in books? Do they add something to the story or do they take away the freedom of imagination?
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