The Marvels by Brian Selznick
A truly fascinating story, meant for young adults, that really works itself out to be a puzzle. It’s haunting and beautiful.
I wasn’t that enamored with Scorcese’s Hugo, and I have never read any Brian Selznick before. Or experienced is probably a better term. It’s not a conventional novel. It’s a three part story, the first and third being told entirely in (mostly) wordless pictures. It’s almost like a silent film. And even Selznick’s name calls up cinematic thoughts.
The first portion of the story tells — again, in black and white illustrations — the legend of the Marvels, spanning several generations of actors and artists who each are inspired or haunted in their own way by Shakespeare and the stage. This part starts in the 1700’s and makes it all the way to 1900, where the story abruptly stops. And I mean abruptly. Cliffhanger doesn’t do it justice. It’s as if someone tore the pages out of the books. (Which consequently, my dog actually did. He’s never before attacked a library book, but for some reason, he felt the need to sink his fangs into this beauty, rending out an entire section of illustration which I then had to piece together. He’s got exquisite tastes — it was a $33 book to replace.)
Then we move into 1985, where we receive a tale in prose, of a young dream-minded runaway who flees to England to find his uncle. What spools out is virtually Dickensian. And at times, your brain keeps trying to click it up against the portion of the story that took place during the early eras. If only for the inclusion of one character’s mother, who runs a clinic to take care of the sick who none will touch — and during the 1980’s this meant AIDS — it would feel out of time.
As the two stories work themselves together, slowly clicking into place, it’s really heartbreaking and gorgeously crafted. Especially the final few illustrations that make up the final part of the story. The Marvels is a testament to storytelling, itself artfully rendered by leaping between illustration and prose. The prose part is a bit heady, and clunky at times. But that’s easily forgive. It’s made for a younger audience’s palate.
The story itself actually is based on real events, more or less, and that to me makes it even more magical. If you’re a fan of either Shakespeare or storytelling, give this a chance. It’s really quite something.