Jacob's grandfather tells him tales. Tall stories about peculiar people and his home on a magical island. As far as Jacob is concerned, these stories are just that - fibs, tales, something to pass the time. That is Before. After he discovers that there might be something to what his grandfather has said, and heads out on a journey to try and find the island from the past.
This is a quirky, beautiful, haunting, spooky little novel. I really had no idea what to expect going in - but did assume it would be a horror from the rather creepy photo adorning the front cover. I was left to uncover the secrets of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and I hope that you decide to as well. I would hate to spoil anything, so will leave my discussions of the plot entirely. (I know that some people regard that reviewing technique as a complete cop-out, but I desperately want people to come to this novel with fresh eyes - it is a complete treat).
The prose is exceptional - leading the reader in a drifting manner through the first half of the novel, exploring Jacob's reaction to his grandfather's stories and his quiet life as an ordinary boy. At times it is quite stunning, and led me to think of such authors as Peter S Beagle. The second half of the novel increases the pace, with some exceptionally scary moments.
In fact, the best word to sum up Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is "atmospheric". I thought about old-time shows and circuses, featuring bearded ladies and the like. I thought about haunted houses and ghosts. Having the background of WWII to much of the novel gave it a weight and oppression. Some scenes drip with menace. Others show a dreary town haunted by its past. Altogether, this novel is atmospheric!
The atmosphere is increased by the wonderful archive photographs in sepia scattered through the novel. Riggs used them as his inspiration for the story, and you can see exactly why they created such a strange little tale. Indeed, the picture on the front cover of the novel shows a little girl in a dress - fairly ordinary. Until you look closely and see that she is hovering a foot above the ground. This manner of secrets being revealed is perfectly in tune with the prose of the novel.
I do have a quibble - as I always do where time travel and loops in time are concerned. It is too easy to see paradoxes and loopholes in the idea of people moving back and forth in time. If I thought too hard about what was occurring, my head started to ache with the logistics of it all.
Apart from that incredibly minor point, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is an exceptional tale; one that is destined to become a classic. It is undefinable and entirely beautiful. I think this has managed to do the impossible and knock the Chaos Walking trilogy from my top spot this year. Well worth your money!