Friday, April 6, 2007
Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Title: The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Author: Brian Selznick
Publisher: Scholastic Press
# of Pages: 544
Favorite Line: "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."
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Here is a true masterpiece—an artful blending of narrative, illustration and cinematic technique, for a story as tantalizing as it is touching.Twelve-year-old orphan Hugo lives in the walls of a Paris train station at the turn of the 20th century, where he tends to the clocks and filches what he needs to survive. Hugo's recently deceased father, a clockmaker, worked in a museum where he discovered an automaton: a human-like figure seated at a desk, pen in hand, as if ready to deliver a message. After his father showed Hugo the robot, the boy became just as obsessed with getting the automaton to function as his father had been, and the man gave his son one of the notebooks he used to record the automaton's inner workings. The plot grows as intricate as the robot's gears and mechanisms [...] To Selznick's credit, the coincidences all feel carefully orchestrated; epiphany after epiphany occurs before the book comes to its sumptuous, glorious end. Selznick hints at the toymaker's hidden identity [...] through impressive use of meticulous charcoal drawings that grow or shrink against black backdrops, in pages-long sequences. They display the same item in increasingly tight focus or pan across scenes the way a camera might. The plot ultimately has much to do with the history of the movies, and Selznick's genius lies in his expert use of such a visual style to spotlight the role of this highly visual media. A standout achievement.
First of all, this book is beautiful. I mean, really, really beautiful. You see it in the bookstore with this fabulous cover, and then you open it up and it's one of those really beautifully bound hardcovers, and then you see that it has all these full-page black and white illustrations, and some pictures, and all sorts of things that just make one REALLY want to own the book. I had been told about this gem by Diamond, and she does have a way of finding the keepers! So I snatched it up a while ago and kept wanting to read it, but I didn't get around to it until now.
Did I mention that it's beautiful? Just sitting down the first time to read it was a moment of immense anticipation, as I thought- here comes a REALLY great story, complete with pictures! And that same giddy feeling returned every time I opened it. It is unfortunate that I read it so quickly, really. But as the book explores the early days of movies and film, one can really appreciate what it must have been like for those early moviegoers, walking into a darkened theater and then seeing their dreams and lives and all sorts of other magical things on the screen.
Did I like this book? Oh, yes. I don't know if I think the story itself was all that wonderful- there weren't that many words, and it wasn't, to me, that compelling of a plot. I don't know if the pictures were that great, as I'm not an artist, by any means. But the two together? The one not standing strong without the other? (To be frank, I have no idea what they did to make an audio version of this book, as I just do NOT see how it could work.) It's wonderful. I don't know if it was just me, but putting the two medium together- not like a graphic novel, exactly, but as a novel in both pictures and words- really hit me. The author will write something like, "Hugo opened the box." And then there will be ten pages of drawings, of Hugo getting the box, opening it, and then a close-up of what's in the box, and then another close-up, and then another- and then back to the words. I think it must be very similar to what silent film must have been like. And when a book can make you feel the magic like that, and can make you so giddy just to open it, then it's one that deserves attention, regardless of the strength of its plot.