Monthly Archives: April 2012

10) The Invention of Hugo Cabret

By: Brian Selznick

Date Finished: 04.12.12

By Brian Selznick

“I like to imagine that the world is one big machine.  You know, machines never have any extra parts.  They have the exact number and type of parts they need.  So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason.  And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.”

When the librarian brought this book out, my first thought was, ‘there is no way I’m lugging that thing around in my purse.‘  It’s huge!  It’s 2 1/4″ thick and it’s a children’s book!  Then I saw the series of pictures between the words and understood that it’s more than just a novel.  This book is a movie on paper.

The pictures are more than illustrations, they are part of the story, part of the action moving the plot forward, and part of the mood.  Atmosphere is everything with each page bordered in black and laid out just so.  The pictures are pencil drawings shown in such detail that the texture of the paper shows through.  The words don’t always fill up the page and these in particular are reminiscent of a title card in a silent movie.  The arrangement often gives a flickering effect, like watching an old film.  It also dictates pace, where the reader turns the pages faster in the action scenes, literally speeding up the story.  On the other hand, suspense is increased when you have to slow your reading to look at a different page.  This is more than writing a novel; this is creating a magic trick.

It’s rare that I watch a movie then decide to read the book, but in this case I could hardly wait to see what the book had to say.  Strangely enough, the book has more tension and the filmmakers actually tidied up some of the relationships.  Both have an appropriate tone; however, with the movie focusing on the sense of adventure and the book exploring more the cost of secrets.  I’m glad to have experienced them in this order and would recommend both to you.

The story is rich and imaginative, capturing the fears of a child without speaking down to children.  Selznick touches on the innate worries that we never quite grow out of and indicates that sometimes a childlike compassion is the only thing that can save us.  Hugo is a true hero, for kids and adults alike.

I love the use of George Méliès as a historical figure and the balance Selznick strikes between Méliès as the subject of the book and Hugo as the vessel for the story.  The mystery revolves around Méliès, while Hugo’s background and choices cause the story to actually happen.  I also love the discussions of magic and early film.  Movies needed magicians to push the boundaries.  Méliès was already inventing spectacular special effects to dazzle a live audience and medium of film only increased his creative capacity.  I find the whole process fascinating.

This book truly is a masterpiece with a well-crafted movie adaptation.  Like with The Night Circus, this is a book to read at night, preferably with the lights dimmed and a fan throwing out shadows as though sitting in the dark of an old movie theater.

At the end of the day: Really, really for me.

9) Neverwhere

By: Neil Gaiman

Date Finished: 04.06.12

By Neil Gaiman

“It starts with doors.”

There are two Londons, the one we know and London Below which houses those who have fallen through the cracks.  There are sewers and abandoned subway tunnels, yes, but there are also estates and labyrinths and echoes of buildings borrowed from the surface.  It is an anachronistic city with a society patched together from different eras.  Civilization has evolved more slowly than it did on the surface and the people there have a cruder nature by necessity.  It seems most of the inhabitants possess some magic skill although only a few are highlighted in the book.  London Below is a treacherous mishmash of people, places, and customs abandoned by modern society.  This may be a magical world, but it is certainly no Narnia.

Much of London Below is mapped out by literalism.  “Knightsbridge” is actually “Night’s Bridge,” owned by darkness and living dreams.  There really is an earl at “Earl’s Court,” black friars at “Blackfriars,” and presumably a raven at “Raven’s Court” although we never meet it.  Knowledge of the London tube stations would come in handy at such points, but the protagonist’s reactions are big enough to fill in the blanks.  In fact, for an adult male, protagonist Richard Mayhew borders on whiny teenage girl at times.  But he tends to rely on sarcasm when he’s scared out of his wits which keeps him interesting.

Gaiman’s style is… different.  It”s a good different and it’s a I-can’t-believe-he-got-away-with-that different.  I think I prefer his tone in the short stories of Smoke and Mirrors where Gaiman’s voice gives instant personality to a piece.  In the long-term it doesn’t sit as comfortably.  Still, the oddity fits the story well and makes the book distinct.  Somehow the book mimics the Hero’s Journey almost exactly and includes many archetypes, yet it defies convention.  The style contributes to this effect, making a timeless plot completely Gaiman-ized.  (Can we please make that a real term?)

I loved the ending.  I’m afraid I will enter the land of spoilers if I go into details, but I’m hard pressed to name a book with a better one (Howl’s Moving Castle is the only ending I can vividly remember right now).  Admittedly, I did worry a bit when it seemed Richard would stick with the wrong path, but he saved himself at just the right time.  The best endings have to be worrisome; perfection must be earned.  It may be just me, but I finished with a resonant image in my head.  Gaiman sure stuck the landing.  (When editing this, I flipped through the beginning of the book and the opening lines are just as striking as the end.  I love when that happens!  It makes me giddy.)

It has taken me a long time to process this one — I liked the book, but I’m still not entirely sure why.  Whether you read Neverwhere or not, I recommend Smoke and Mirrors if you want a taste of Gaiman’s work (or if you like fantasy stories at all).

At the end of the day: For me.