Friday, 4 December 2015

The Marvels


Book Title: The Marvels
Author: Brian Selznick
Date Started: November 27th 2015
Date Completed: December 4th 2015
Genres: Adventure, Historical, Mystery
Quality Rating: Four Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Five Star
Final Rating: Four stars

I always eagerly await Selznick's novels and I certainly wasn't disappointed. After Wonderstuck - which I still liked don't get me wrong - I did have a suspicion that nothing he wrote again would reach the heights of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. However, while it still wasn't the author's magical debut, I fell in love with this traditional adventure story told in a new and beautiful way.

Selznick is a phenomenal storyteller: both in his writing and his illustration. And to see him create such vivid narratives through both is refreshing and unique. I was really happy to see him trying a slightly different structure with his work this time (the first section of the book is told entirely through drawings, then entirely through prose, and then another little closing image sequence) and while I generally prefer his previous consistent breaks in the writing with images, I still enjoyed these two stories being told separately and then gradually weaving together.
The wonderful thing about Selznick's writing is he can put so many of his passions into one story without overloading the reader. Even without knowing anything about the author (which, admittedly, I do) you can see his fascination with theatres, museums, curiosities, old photographs and records, classic cinemas - he is truly a man after my own heart. And even past this, he has such a natural and gentle way of showing 'issues' without making them into issues: neglect, HIV, pyromania, death, homosexuality (which should be shown in normality more often for younger readers), the affect of modern economics unpeople and cultures etc. We're often not shown in the story how these things came about, which is something I really admired; it's not about whose fault it was or where it came from or why it is that way, it's about how to accept and embrace it and live happily regardless. It's so important in children's fiction, but it's often forgotten in adult's fiction, which is why I think Selznick's stories are perfect for any reader.

I felt The Marvels lost itself a little bit at times and the pacing was strangely ordered, which was fine until we got to the break between two big reveals This just didn't fit for me and made me a little bit lost for the rest of the story. Having said that, the narrative itself was lovely and the echoes of Selznick's recurring themes made me smile. There's always a troubled creator in his books, and I think that's something for the adults reading them. But if you want your child to be creative, give them these books; they show they magical side of creativity, but also the (sometimes) sad and lonely side too. If you can teach children that creation isn't always going to be perfect, but that you can still create beautiful things and find happiness in them, I think a lot more people will be unafraid to do what they love.
I did call the twist towards the end, but I still praise it for its cleverness. Again, Selznick knows exactly what to give children, because it's more than just a twist in a story. It has a truly emotional affect without having to understand the complexities of the people experiencing it because the reader has grown just as emotionally attached as they have - and all under the pretence that they're supposed to. It was very clever, and it was also heartbreaking. Until I remembered that it doesn't matter if they're just characters in a story: they can mean just as much to you.

I didn't engage much with individual characters in this book; it felt like the story was really the 'main character' and the other people were ways to illustrate this. At the end of the day I don't feel like this had a negative impact on the book, and I feel like younger readers would invest more in the characters.
Joseph was quite a neutral protagonist, and that worked well for the story. It's very much about letting the narrative of these people's lives play out without pushing them in a certain direction to create drama or suspense. I actually really enjoyed this and I think it would be good for children to see a story that isn't really saved deliberately by a main character they can relate to - Joseph actually saves the day by being kind and patient.

It wasn't so much the pacing that I had issues with, but more the ordering. For a children's book focusing on a place and people and history you expect to get the sometimes long descriptions (never once did I find these boring I might add), but the placement of these passages sometimes felt strange to me. Particularly around the end: we get a twist and then we have this wind down of normality - it felt quite strange to me. I was expecting Joseph to start looking at things differently, and perhaps the point is that it didn't really matter in the end, but I wasn't quite sure whether I was supposed to get used to this new equilibrium or if I was still supposed to be amazed and mystified.

Part of me is still quite conflicted about the rating for this book but, as much as I loved it, the 'pre-ending' just coming down from the climax but before the end brought everything lower in expectations for me. Regardless, Selznick has once again made me feel like a little kid that just wants to hide in books and theatres and museums and old houses forever. If you want to give a child a sense of wonderment in reality then give them Selznick's books - and the afterword is definitely worth a read to show you that these things can be real.

Image Source -

No comments:

Post a Comment