Saturday, January 14, 2012

Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Orphan Hugo Cabret lives in a wall. His secret home is etched out in the crevices of a busy Paris train station. Part-time clock keeper, part-time thief, he leads a life of quiet routine until he gets involved with an eccentric, bookish young girl and an angry old man who runs a toy booth in the station. The Invention of Hugo Cabret unfolds its cryptic, magical story in a format that blends elements of picture book, novel, graphic novel, and film. Caldecott Honor-winning author-illustrator Brian Selznick has fashioned an intricate puzzle story that binds the reader like a mesmerist's spell. (summary from Goodreads)

Selznick's book is one of wonder and mystery, incorporating the written word, photography and illustration to create a heartwarming story.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret tells the story of Hugo, the son of a clockmaker who has been recently orphaned. Taken in by his Uncle, the clock keeper for a Paris train station, Hugo learns to be his apprentice. But when his Uncle disappears, Hugo has no one to turn to. Terrified of being discovered by the Station Inspector and taken to an orphanage, Hugo resides within the walls of the train station and works as the clock keeper in his Uncle's place, stealing food as necessary. On his person at all times is one of his father's notebooks that details the inner workings of a strange automaton his father found within the museum and had been working on before his death. Having found the remains of the automaton amongst the ashes of the burned museum, and believing it a last connection to his father, Hugo wishes to fix it. To do so, he steals toys for parts from the old toy shop owner, Georges. When Hugo is caught, his life becomes tangled with that of Georges and his goddaughter, Isabelle. Isabelle is determined to discover Hugo's secrets, and Georges seems to know more about the automaton than he says. What secrets does the automaton conceal? Together, Hugo and Isabelle are about to find out.

Right from the get go I was awed by The Invention of Hugo Cabret - the face looking out from the spine, the crisp black and white pages, the detailed illustrations - this was a book I was immediately intrigued by and determined to savour. I've read books with illustrations before, but never quite like this - outside graphic novels - where the illustrations aren't an accompaniment to the words but tell the story themselves. What a story it is too! One of tragedy, mystery, friendship, grief, strength, and imagination. It is, in a word, beautiful, and I left it feeling - well, to be honest, warm and gooey! I left it smiling and happy. It wasn't quite what I expected - in a way, it was a much simpler story than I anticipated, having begun to build up the intrigue for myself through my wondering about a few 'what ifs' - but that's okay, because it worked out for the best and in the end I loved it.

I'm very much endeared to Hugo, who has such a tragic and heartbreaking tale but is resilient and strong no matter what. I absolutely adore that his story started out with such a different purpose but along the way became so entangled with Georges and Isabelle's lives. What becomes of it is an inexplicably lovely meeting of like minded characters, pieces of the same, as it were. All three lost and searching, and that the automaton, such a mysterious object for much of the story, is at the center of their finding not only each other but peace is truly touching. I can't help but to feel that the automaton was the message Hugo wanted it to be all along, and that touch of destiny is what makes the book for me. This might not make much sense now, but it will if you read the book, which I hope you do.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a marvellous and imaginative book that will awe and touch every reader. It's pieces of dreams caught within words and illustrations! Certainly it was destined to be a movie too, and so I look forward to seeing it brought to life on the big screen soon.


Publisher: Scholastic
Published date: 1 March 2007
Pages: 533


  1. I just read Wonderstruck, also written by Brian Selznick. He followed the same formula, telling a story with his illustrations and another with word which he then combined to complete one story. It was a fascinating endeavour and beautiful. Now I must read The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Knowing these are written for children 9 and up does not inhibit their readership as adults and children alike will appreciate Brian's stories. They are ideal to read together as a family.

    1. I have yet to read Wonderstruck, but I definitely plan too! I'm glad to hear it's much like Hugo - such a fascinating story and way of portraying it! I hope you also enjoy Hugo! :-)

  2. I had the privilege to hear Brian Selznick speak at the National Book Festival, and after hearing him I truly think he's a genius. I'm so glad you enjoyed Hugo Cabret!

    Selznick said he was very happy with the movie adaptation, and that he got a personal tour from Martin Scorsese of the set. He also said that Scorsese carried the book everywhere on set with him. I wasn't sure if they would do the book justice with the movie, but I think they did, in large part because they showed respect for the masterpiece Selznick created!

    I can't wait to read Wonderstruck, which I keep hearing is just as magnificent as Hugo Cabret!
    Lauren @ Hughes Reviews

    1. That's so awesome to hear! I really enjoyed the movie, I thought they did a fantastic job - some differences, but it made it more fit for a movie in that way, I think. :-D