I first found out about Brian Selznick from, like a lot of people, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. That was one of the most creative books I’ve ever read in that it has pencil images that tell a story combined with traditional novel writing. It was also an excellent story. He followed it up with Wonderstruck that was not as good as Hugo but was still interesting. His most recent book in that style is The Marvels and it doesn’t live up to the previous two books.
Joseph Jervis has run away from his boarding school to stay with his uncle Albert Nightingale in London during Christmas. It’s here that Joseph discovers The Marvels, a family of stage actors who started in 1766 but it all ended in the early 1900s. Now Joseph thinks these were his ancestors and is trying to find out the truth from his uncle.
The thing that made the previous two books great was that Selznick knew what the perfect balance of drawings and writing was. Here, we get almost four hundred pages of drawing and then nothing but text for two hundred pages and then fifty pages of drawings. Yes, I admit that this was done deliberately as explained by the ending, but it kills the pacing of the book.
Not to mention that Joseph isn’t really that interesting of a character, nor is his story. Hugo had a kid trying to not get arrested and Wonderstruck had a kid finding his dad my going to the Museum of Natural History. This is just boring.
The Marvels themselves are an interesting family as is their story, Joseph’s just doesn’t cut it. In fact, all the characters here aren’t that interesting. It’s a shame since Selznick does have talent.
The drawings are still amazing, so that’s something. Selznick has the talent to use drawings to tell a compelling story that doesn’t need words to describe what’s going on. I may go so far as to say that Selznick is a better story teller using art than with words.
I’d still read any further Selznick books. I do enjoy his imagination and artwork. It’s just that this book was a letdown when compared to Hugo and Wonderstruck.