The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Happy April Fool’s day! I’m not really into trickery myself, and today that works out because I have no one to trick. We’re snowed in today. It’s kind of unbelievable, because this week has given us some really nice weather. It’s been warm! But as I look out the window now, there is a heavy blanket of snow growing on the ground, falling since before I woke up. I’ve heard eight to twelve inches.

Needless to say, snow day means reading! Yesterday I spent all of my free time doing all of my homework just so I would be able to enjoy this weekend without worrying about my scholarly obligations. I wanted to be able to read and watch movies and cook and enjoy my leisure time, thank you.

I’ve been interested in reading this book for a few months now because the media intrigued me. This is a story told in words and pictures. I’ve been putting it aside, though, even though I could see it would be quick, until I was at the library with my little sister and she wanted to get it. Since she’s already in the middle of a book (she’s reading The Phantom Tollbooth, which I could never finish, but she’s enjoying it), I took it to read through first. It’s a huge book- 526 pages, and the paper is unusually heavy- but it is a quick read.

I think this book could affectionately be called YA. The story isn’t complicated, and the backstory can be explained in a few paragraphs. The main character is twelve year-old Hugo Cabret, and orphan timekeeper living undetected in a Parisian trainstation. He was an apprentice timekeeper, under his uncle, until his uncle mysteriously disappeared several months ago. Now, living in the walls, Hugo keeps the clocks going so he isn’t found and sent to an orphanage.

He has more important things to worry about, though. Hugo’s father died in a museum fire before the events of the story, and he left Hugo with an automaton- a mechanical man- that he had been carefully restoring to working order. The automaton appears to be able to write, if only he could get it functioning. Using his father’s notebooks, Hugo continues his work, trying to repair the machine that, he imagines, will give him a message from his father.

Nothing is that easy, though- Hugo has to steal mechanical toys, whose parts he takes and uses to fix the man. Then one day, the old man who owns the toybooth catches him, takes his notebook, and tells him that he will burn it.

Along the way, Hugo meets an eccentric young girl named Isabelle, who seems to want to help him.

The story is, like I said, not complicated, but it’s interesting enough to keep you going for the few hours it takes to read. There are a lot of epiphany moments (Hugo needs an adult to enter the library? Cue older friend. The automaton needs an oddly-shaped key to start? Isabelle’s been wearing it around her neck this entire time) which I always think of as a poor substitute for cleverness, a lot of the action is told sparsely, and characterization is kind of lacking. It’s not completely absent, but it could be stronger.

The illustrations, though, are magnificent. They honestly tell the story just as much as the words do (actually, there are more pages of drawings than of words). They’re gorgeous full-page spreads in pencil on watercolor paper. Well, originally on watercolor paper. According to the information thing at the back.

Some of the pages also had photos and stills from old films. It was a very graphic experience. Filmmaking was also a very important element to the story, so there is a lot of that.

All in all, it was a very graphic and unusual reading experience. Even though the writing wasn’t as spectacular spectacular as it could have been, I enjoyed it. I was fond of the characters, and the ending was good. It was appropriately quick, too.

I’m a little bit worried that I won’t be able to make it to the library earlier than next Tuesday. Of course I have books in my pile, but I ordered a few books to come in and I’m rather eager to read them. I wonder if librarians get weather days? Is the library even open today? I could call and find out. Or I could just start a new book or watch a movie.

I enjoy snow days.

Published in: on April 1, 2011 at 2:53 pm  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Spectacular Spectacular…. sounds familiar…. I wanna say 3 2 1 Penguins but I’m really not sure…. somehow I don’t think so…. do you know?

    • “Spectacular spectacular…. no words in the vernacular!” It’s from Moulin Rouge.

  2. […] illustrations are intended to tell the story in at least equal parts as the words. It was probably Hugo Cabret that put me in the mood for visual novels. Which is actually what this first one prefers to be […]

  3. Sounds intriguing but not something I would read. Although the art does look amazing. Lately I haven’t been able to bully myself into reading anything longer than a psych article or a fanfic coz I have no TIME. It kills me. I want a book to make me cry again.

    • Water for Elephants. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I Kill Giants.

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