“Stories aren’t the same as facts,” Joseph shouts. “No,” Albert reasons, “but they can be both.”
– Brian Selznick, The Marvels
The journey begins on a ship at sea in 1766, with a boy named Billy Marvel. After surviving a shipwreck, he fnds work in a London theatre. There, his family fourishes for generations as brilliant actors until 1900, when young Leontes Marvel is banished from the stage.
Nearly a century later, Joseph Jervis runs away from school and seeks refuge with an uncle in London. Albert Nightingale’s strange, beautiful house with its mysterious portraits and ghostly presences, captivates Joseph and leads him on a search for clues about the house, his family and the past.
If you have ever read – or even held – a Brian Selznick book in your hands you will understand the joy associated with them. If you haven’t… well there is still time for you to rectify the situation! Known for The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, Selznick has created another masterpiece full of magic and wonder. Not only is Selznick a writer but he is also an artist who continues to push the boundaries between narrative and art. At a whopping 700 pages, The Marvels is broken into two parts – the first is nearly 400 pages of continuous illustrations and the second, in prose.
The story begins on a ship at sea in 1766. One minute young Billy Marvel is participating in a play on board the ship and the next, he is shipwrecked on an island with his dog Tar and deceased brother. Billy finds his way back to London and through a series of events, finds himself in a theatre, quite at home. What follows is the dramatic saga of the Marvel family until it suddenly ends… and picks up again in 1990 with a thirteen-year-old boy called Joseph Jervis. Joseph is living an unhappy life at boarding school and decides to run away with the intention of finding his friend and the uncle he has never met. When Joseph arrives at his uncle’s place, he discovers that the house (and his uncle) are as eccentric as the other. Joseph comes across a picture of Leo – a member of the Marvel family – and becomes obsessed with uncovering their story. It all comes to a head and Joseph discovers that the line between fact and fiction is a blurry one and that things aren’t always as they seem.
The first thing to mention about this book is just how exquisite it is. The cover and gold gilded pages set the tone and then you open the cover only to discover the beautifully rendered illustrations that are meticulously detailed and you can’t help but swoon. There is an incredible intimacy to Selznick’s drawings that remind me of the old black and white silent films. They are perfectly expressive and they convey a clear and concise story. There are some wonderful close up-ups of the characters eyes… I could try and explain their beauty but I think you are better finding a copy and seeing for yourself… I couldn’t possibly do them justice! I read a fabulous quote in an article that said Selznick’s readers don’t read his books, they inhabit them and I couldn’t agree more. From the very first page, I was captivated by the magic and the deep and quite complex messages Selznick doesn’t shy away from. The Marvels is full of layers and what I love most is Selznick’s exploration of truth versus fiction and whether one is more important than the other. Do true stories matter more than made up ones?
Selznick also explores family and the complicated relationships of those we are bound to by blood…and the importance of making your own when those fall apart. The Marvels is thought-provoking in topic and poignant in the messages it leaves behind. Selznick includes some surprising yet important themes that are not often seen in children’s books. The Marvels is already one of my favourite reads for 2016 and I cannot recommend it enough. Find yourself a copy, sit in a quiet space and let yourself appreciate the beauty of the book in front of you. Go on, you won’t be disappointed.
AUTHOR: Brian Selznick
PUB DATE: October 2015
Thank you to Scholastic for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!