So much of the storyline in The Marvels depends on discoveries of connections, interlinked stories, and revelations that it’s a fairly difficult book to review – I’m not sure what I can discuss without giving anything away. Overall, it’s a unique and intriguing book with beautiful art, that I recommend reading. It also has ownvoices gay representation (again, can’t go into details without spoilers, unfortunately).
The book begins with an extensive sequence of drawings, utilising Selznick’s unique style (from The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck) to tell the story: a shipwreck occurs, of which Billy Marvel is the sole survivor. He eventually creates a theatre and his descendants also become actors. The visuals follow his family for five generations, up to Leontes Marvel, who appears unsuited to theatre.
The next section of the book is in prose. Joseph has run away from boarding school and is in pursuit of his friend Blink. He has chosen to go to his estranged uncle, Albert Nightingale, whom he has never met before. His uncle’s house is full of mysteries — paintings, hidden objects, references to people from the past — that seem to be connected to his family. As Joseph becomes progressively intrigued, he works to unlock the mystery of the Marvels and their connection to the present.
The biggest strength of this book was the sense of mystery which pervaded throughout. The first pages of art immediately captured my attention and made me want to know more about the characters; Albert Nightingale’s house and its elements are depicted with suspenseful intrigue; and as more characters, hints at connections between them, and interlinked storylines are introduced, the book was impressively effective at keeping me guessing and continuing to read forward.
The visual art was also incredible, and upon reflection at the end of the book, I really liked the way it was utilised. I preferred the way it was used in Wonderstruck, going back and forth between a visual story and a textual one, over The Invention of Hugo Cabret, where they were used together to tell one story. So I was unsure what to expect when I saw that it was only visuals at the beginning then only text in The Marvels — but after reading the whole book, I feel that it worked out really nicely.
There is definitely also a huge amount of originality in this story, some of which were inspired by real events and people; I highly recommend reading the author’s note at the end, where he explains this. I also enjoyed the way lines from different poems, Shakespeare’s plays, and so on were quoted in the story without feeling forced. And on the whole, the story was effective at evoking emotions in me.
There were a few small disappointments, however. There was a significant amount of exposition in the second section due to the nature of the story, with continuous revelations of the past and how it connects to the visual one. This wasn’t as off-putting as it may have been in other books, probably because I was so keen to read these explanations after being dropped so many hints and mysteries and speculating about it myself, but it did involve a lot of explanation and talking to sift through. Additionally, the final section of the book felt a little weak and rushed — I would have preferred more closure.
I recommend this book, as it is well worth the chance to experience the story through the visual art, the sense of mystery, and the revelations. Whilst this falls short of Wonderstruck (my favourite of Selznick’s books) for me, it definitely has a lot to offer.
Recommended for fans of: Selznick’s other books, mysteries, interlinked and metafictive stories