‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ by Brian Selznick is an intimidatingly big book. It has a beautiful hardback cover, with over 500 pages of story interspersed with illustrations. It’s neither a graphic novel, nor your regular historical fiction pick, making it a genre of its own. And it mixes the three loves of my life – books, movies and drawings. So to put a potentially long review short – I love love love this novel!
The last few pages of the story moved me, and I was wrapped in a sense of awe combined with joy for all storytelling mediums. Brian Selznick’s simple story was able to take me back to my childhood. I can’t imagine how many buckets of tears I would’ve shed if I read it as a school-girl. I wasn’t my usual cynical adult self as I carefully read each page, some filled witch simple pencil drawings, narrating the story, like a silent black & white film from a lost era. I saw the Martin Scorsese movie based on the book in 2011, so despite being familiar with the plot, it managed to be a magical portal to a different world.
We have a Dickensian protagonist – 12-year-old Hugo Cabret is an orphan taken in by his drunken uncle who works at the railway station, after the boy’s father dies in a tragic fire. The only tangible memory left of his clock-maker father is a notebook and a mechanical-man he was working to fix. The story follows Hugo’s adventures and his efforts to fix the mechanical-man. His life is complicated when his drunk uncle disappears one day, forcing Hugo to do his job of maintaining all the clocks at the station. Because if the authorities find out the boy is by himself, they will pack him off to an orphanage.
Hugo is a liar, thief, clock-keeper, aspiring magician and a bit of an imp. He can get on the reader’s nerve sometimes, but one has to remind themselves that he is but an orphaned boy, with little knowledge of how the world works. Selznick’s artwork is simple, childlike, there is a raw rough draft element to them, as if they’ve been torn off from an artist’s personal diary. Had the novel just been filled with those illustrations, with the text just serving as caption, they story wouldn’t have been as compelling. The artwork is sprinkled in just the right amount, enough to captivate and carry the story forward.
The real twist in the tale comes when the young Hugo locks horns with a grumpy old toy-shop owner Papa Georges, from whose shop Hugo often steals parts. Papa Georges isn’t just another ordinary old man, he has a lot of cryptic angry questions for Hugo, hinting at a mysterious past. Sleznick’s story is a tribute to storytellers of the past, the dreamers, the magicians, and the first filmmakers who brought the magic of cinema to the common man. For fellow-creators, it will be hard to not fall in love with the tale.
‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ is the perfect gift for young readers and also for adults who still have a childlike spark left in them. It’s a 5/5 from me. I am thankful to a new friend for lending me their gorgeous copy.
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