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.

2 thoughts on “10) The Invention of Hugo Cabret

  1. Rachel says:

    I read it this morning, light streaming through the window. But I really wanted to be in a dim, dusty theater, curled up in a red velvet covered seat in the last row, waiting for the projector to flicker to life.

    Well done, Brian Selznick. Well done.

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