The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a book by Brian Selznick. It has received critical acclaim and a movie, directed by Martin Scorsese, is now in theaters. I actually received the book as a Christmas gift in 2008 and have only made my way to it recently. The stack of books next to my bed is a daunting adversary. Here are some of my thoughts on this unique book.
The first thing I noticed about this book is how beautiful it is. The dust jacket is intricate and colorful. The paper stock is heavy and it feels like a real artifact, something to display. The book is huge, much bigger than expected for a book aimed at young adults. As daunting as the size can seem I was able to finish it in about a week of intermittent reading.
The story moves at a brisk pace, aided by many pages of illustration. This is where the book really shines. Selznick has taken an effective approach to storytelling. Usually illustrations and occasional historical photographs move the story along. When exposition is necessary he returns to prose in well-set spare pages. This method gives the reader the best of both worlds and eases comprehension of the story. The narrative seems to fly by, a mark of success in my opinion.
The story itself winds and intrigues on many levels. It’s a story about family and finding a place of utility in the world. It is full of mystery as well. Selznick does a great job of building the story as one thing and then, halfway through, shifting the plot in a new and fascinating direction. Its magical themes manage to feed into an equally intriguing historical conclusion.
My timing reading the book could not have been better. Martin Scorsese has directed a film based on the book called Hugo, and I saw it last weekend. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a fairly faithful rendition. The only additions and changes were understandable and helped flesh out the movie. The subject matter is a natural for Scorsese and he delights in the film history that the story celebrates. The staging of Georges Méliès’s films are reflected throughout the layered staging of the entire film.
I can heartily recommend both the book and film. The story is very intriguing and has good lessons to teach. I hope you enjoy them as well.