Book Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Subtitled “a novel in words and pictures,” this 530-page book is a fast read.

Spoilers follow.

20160711_112838-1The story follows a fictional boy named Hugo, who happens upon plans for fixing an automaton that was partially destroyed in a museum fire. In doing so, he gets into various troubles and discovers the automaton’s relationship to Georges Melies, a famous early filmmaker.

The book itself “plays” like a movie. It includes full pages of text, partial pages of text, and full pages of illustrations. The illustrations are cinematic, almost like a storyboard, as they follow the characters in wide angle and then “zoom” in to close-ups. The book also has section, which mimic the “acts” in a film, broken, for instance, by an intermission. Some of the pictures are historical, or screen shots from early films.

The novel is appropriate for young readers, but adults will appreciate it as well. Grown-ups familiar with film (especially early film) will appreciate the references. Those unfamiliar with early film will learn something. Fans of steampunk will appreciate the toy shop in the novel, where Hugo helps Melies repair clockwork toys, and engineers will appreciate the references to horology.

I was especially interested in the characters’ abilities to fix automata. The author provides a link, where we can learn more about one of the devices he researched for this novel: http://www.fi.edu/pieces/knox/automaton.

Finally, this book carries with it a sense of magic—the same sense of magic we feel when seeing a film in the theatre. Georges Melies is known for his dream-like imagery in films, and the book captures that sense of dreaminess and magic. It’s an encouragement to young readers to follow their dreams and advice to grown-ups to never give up on theirs. The quality of the hardcover and intricate drawings helps add to the magic. It’s definitely one I’m saving to give to the kiddo when she’s old enough.