Come out, come out, wherever you are:
Hollow City haunts
By Drew Rowsome
The book Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was a delightful, intriguing surprise and, more importantly, a huge bestseller, guaranteeing a sequel. The combination of vintage photographs of wabi-sabi oddities and mysterious vistas gave Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children a certain gravitas and authority, a Diane Arbus quality, that in no way undercut the sheer fun of the narrative. It is a peculiar book and all the better for it.
Everyone feels different, unusual in some way, and many young adult books - Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Magicians, etc - feature characters estranged from the world who find themselves at home in a strange world. A world where their differences become strengths or magical powers. The important thing is that what is perceived as a defect or derisive becomes admirable. It's a theme that resonates in works of art from The Wizard of Oz to X-Men to Grimm to Queer as Folk. Coming out and accepting oneself, developing pride, is a blatant subtext of all of the above and more.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is very empowering. The peculiar children have characteristics that make them distinctive and out of the norm, and are exiled from the world in time loops. Here they are protected by ymbrynes like Miss Peregrine, a woman who can transform into a bird and back. In Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, the children - and the protagonist - discover that their eccentricities are actually powers and advantages when they are attacked by the inevitable evil forces bent on destroying not only the children but also the world.
Hollow City picks up exactly where Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children left off. The cliffhanger that ended Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was frustrating, but certainly whetted one's appetite for Hollow City. (And - spoiler alert! - Hollow City ends in the same way). Hollow City dives right in and the needed exposition for a new reader does appear numerous pages in. I admit that I cheated and googled a plot summary of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children to refresh my memory - my copy of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children has long since been passed on to other eager readers - and referred to the convenient character descriptions and photos in the frontispieces of Hollow City quite frequently before the story got me in its grip. And then I was reading too compulsively to bother.
Hollow City has a lot more action than its predecessor and it moves at a very fast pace. Tim Burton has optioned Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and a film version would fit into his oeuvre with ease. Hollow City would benefit more from a visionary who can handle thoughtful but relentless action, more Doctor Who than Big Fish. Of course author Ransom Riggs himself is a film-maker and has a cinematic vision that is revealed in the details and descriptions ...
Riggs - whose quirky charm made the discovery that he is married a sad moment - claims that he draws inspiration, and even plot points, from photos in his vast collection of vintage images. While this process felt organic in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children it occasionally interrupts the flow of Hollow City. One can't help but wonder if the convolutions of the plot were inspired by, or created by the inclusion of, a particular photo. Though the series is at least a trilogy - so one must assume that the entire saga has been plotted at least loosely - portions of Hollow City feel off the cuff and as if mythology has been created just to get out of a jam, or include a photograph.
That small flaw out of the way, Hollow City is a rollicking read and has many moments that linger. A vengeful clown, a doomed peculiar and her bathtub-bound sister trapped in London during the Blitz, a verbose dog (a wink towards Riggs' previous success The Sherlock Holmes Handbook?), and a gypsy child turning invisible, all linger hauntingly as characters. As well the peculiar children wrestle with moral dilemmas: first love, the comparative value of lives, and - The Wizard of Oz again - the appeal, the horror and the myth of "home."
The link between the protagonists, whom I became uncommonly invested in, and the Nazi's final solution is stated clearly but with subtlety, helped immensely by the inclusion of the gypsies and the sideshow characters. Even the ultimate villains, the monstrous creatures who feed on peculiars, are given a moment of emotional vulnerability and even understanding. A heavy and weighty theme in a book that is dark but filled with a powerful heart and an overarching sense of hope.
Riggs claims that this book took much longer than the first and I sincerely hope we aren't made to wait too long for Don't Look Away, the third book in this addictive series. Not only do I need to know what happens, I'm eager to see more photographs from Riggs' collection. Just, please, not the one of the shaved bear.