Review // Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick


The cinematic adaptation of Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, debuted at the Cannes Film Festival on the May 18 this year, bringing the unique novel back into the spotlight. Set in two different time periods and produced partly in prose and part in images, the book is an artistic masterpiece. The story follows two children, Ben and Rose, as they endeavour to pursue their dreams of fulfillment.

Ben’s tale, is set in 1977, and told in words. He is grieving for his mother and, after an accident which leaves him deaf, becomes desperate to find somewhere he belongs. Alone, he sets off to New York, in search of his mysterious father. Woven between the elegant pages, Rose’s story, set fifty years earlier, is depicted in images, drawn by the wildly talented Selznick himself. Raised deaf and often left alone by her parents, Rose is too in pursuit of family. Her story intercepts with Ben’s in an astonishing reveal, set in New York’s Museum of Natural History.

Illustration by Brian Selznick.

Selznick’s unique style and characters bring a dimension, and magic, to the story not seen 0r felt in many other standard novels. The choppy delivery and continual switch from images to words, though sometimes difficult, add a poetic and marvellous touch to the story.

The style is not the only remarkable element of this novel, however. Selznick evokes readers with a powerful manipulation of the senses, particularly sound, as even the dialogue is ‘muted’ from the characters’ perspectives. There is also an unfathomable depth and intricacy to his drawings, including an incredible scale model of New York City sprawled across the floor of a museum gallery.

Illustrations from the novel by Brian Selznick.

Though the language and pictures remain simple, in keeping with the characters’ age and maturity, they powerfully capture Ben and Rose’s struggle and isolation, resultant of their disability. This isolation is focal in defining the characters and their decisions and is emphasised by their inability to interact with such a significant aspect of the world around them.

Rose and Ben find the place where they belong through a myriad of delicate moments and objects which unfold in this unique story of curiosity and family. It is a story for everyone, of all ages.

Film still from Wonderstruck directed by Todd Haynes, 2017.

Selznick has translated his story into a screenplay, which was brought to life by director Todd Haynes, at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. While it has not yet been released to the public, an except is available on the Festival website. The clip reveals that the film is shot in both colour and black and white, in a demonstration of the two characters’ times, and uses a powerful musical sequence, amid silence, in a similar method to classic silent films.

Film still from Wonderstruck directed by Todd Haynes, 2017.

While the film is not likely to become available to Australian viewers until, at least, the end of this year it will certainly be interesting to see how the adaptation engages with the depth and elegance of the story. In the meantime, though, if you’re a reader chasing something different and magical, Selznick’s masterpiece is a must. Clichés aside, it left me Wonderstruck.


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