One day I found a picture of this book on Tumblr. I saw the beautiful illustrations and the mysterious title, and I knew it. I knew I had to read it. I quickly found a synopsis of its plot, praise for its author and comparisons towards Roald Dahl and the Harry Potter books. I didn't doubt it for a second; I ordered it without giving it any thought.
And then it arrived, looking so shiny and new with the flawless scent of untouched pages and freshly published letters. I was astonished at its length at first, but then I flipped through it and delighted in the gorgeous chapter illustrations and pencil-drawn details. I knew it was going to be good - so I saved it for a while, put it on my summer-to-read-list and looked forward to reading it. It stood on my shelf, waiting to be opened, to be read, to be loved. And yesterday I finally picked it up.
I shouldn't have taken it out of my bookcase. I shouldn't have crumbled its pages. I shouldn't have bought it or even looked forward to it at all. It was disappointing, repetitive, meaningless and way too long. In the end, all of my expectations amounted to nothing at all.
“What is life without laughter?
The writing style let me down. I was expecting something in the style of Roald Dahl's absurdity, Daniel Handler's ramblings or perhaps even Neil Gaiman's strangeness. But no. "The Mysterious Benedict Society" was written without any peculiarity or childish fondness. The sentences mostly consisted of statements rather than feelings.
And while I did enjoy the whimsical atmosphere of the children's many trials at first, they were repeated in a most tiring manner. First the children try out for school, then they move to another school and try to get promoted to the elite, and then they try to solve a mystery. They face tests after tests after tests. And I got bored.
Perhaps it was because I entirely had misunderstood the premise of the book; I thought it was going to be about an interesting boarding school, not a detective-story in the manner of Enid Blyton's "The Famous Five". The story started in a lovely way, but got stretched and blown out of proportions - the novel is too long for its own good. The mystery in "The Mysterious Benedict Society" won't keep you up at night; rather it will lull you to sleep, and let you drift away into a world of dreams. If only Stewart had let his characters speak more - and investigate less.
“They stared out their window at night enough to know where the darkest shadows lay, and it was to the darkest shadows they kept.
I quite liked the characters, especially the stubborn Constance won my heart, and it pained me to see the group treat her as a burden. Stewart's ultimate message about friendship, family and belonging is very sweet and heartwarming - but it could have been told in a more entertaining and lighthearted manner. I would gladly have skipped the last 300 pages of this book.