Part novel, part graphic novel, part picture book, and part movie, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” is a dizzying, dazzling book, full of magic, wonder, and possibility. You’ll likely find it in the children’s section of your library, but nudge your way past the twelve-year-olds and grab this one for yourself.
Half of what makes this book so compelling is in how the author tells the story. Selznick weaves different methods of storytelling into his tale. The book may look intimidating because its 300-plus pages make it look more like a college textbook, but it’s a surprisingly quick read, as most of the pages are large, amazingly detailed charcoal drawings sprinkled with a page or so of text. Selznick steps back to allow the pictures to tell the story, and lets words handle things like dialogue or fast-paced action. He captures motion in his drawings by increasingly focusing on an object during several pages of sequential drawings – it’s as if he’s placed a movie camera in the story that glides and swoops around the characters.
The Hugo of the title is a young man full of secrets who lives in a train station in 1930s Paris, making sure the clocks keep proper time. A mystery draws him towards a bitter old toymaker who runs a booth in the station and a bookish little girl who sometimes attends the booth with him. Hugo’s quest is intertwined with the old man’s past, and I can’t give away more than that, aside that it involves the history of filmmaking – which is apt, considering Selznick’s cinematic drawing technique I mentioned earlier – and the strange world of automata.
The “Invention of Hugo Cabret” is a stunning work that ignites the readers’ imagination, whether youth or adult.