Release date: April 1, 2007
ORPHAN, CLOCK KEEPER, AND THIEF, twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on the secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlock with an eccentric girl and her grandfather, Hugo's undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo's dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender and spellbinding mystery.
Just as Selznick himself said, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is "not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things." This is shown right at the beginning of the book, where, just as if he was directing a movie, Selznick shows the moon and slowly pans out until the reader sees Paris and, in it, the train station where most of the story is set. Still in pictures, we are introduced to two characters of this story: Hugo Cabret (which, as you may have guessed by the book title, is the main character) and an old man who owns and works at the train station's toy shop It is only after this that Selznick writes the first words of the story.
In them, he tells us that Hugo is an orphan who lives hidden in the train station, where he fixes and checks every clock in the building - a herculean task for a young boy of twelve. Yet, he still has time to work on the automaton that his father was trying to fix before dying. It is thanks to this automaton that he comes upon the toy shop's owner and it is thanks to it that he undertakes a journey that will radically change not only his life but the life of those he touches.
Throughout the book, the author and artist switches from written to drawn narrative with the two forms of storytelling complementing one another perfectly. This switch allows Selznick to move along certain scenes (such as chase scenes), dramatize others (by zooming in and out just as in movies), and an easier creation for the reader of a mental image of the scenario and characters, while still giving space for one's imagination to fill in the rest of the details. It is also this switch that creates a magical feeling to the book, reminiscent of childhood.
However, that is not to say that the book itself is perfect. After all, even though the art is quite possibly flaw-free, the writing feels plain at times and forced at others. As such, oftentimes, as I read the book, I felt the pull of reality taking me away from the story, sometimes for a few lines, sometimes until the art substituted the words again. Nevertheless, the book remains a perfect homage to early cinema, in particular to Georges Méliès's work, who features on the book (albeit with obvious creative license), and is a great book for children and adults alike.
For those of you who have watched the movie adaptation, the Oscar winner Hugo (2011), I would recommend giving the book a read; and for those who read the book but did not watch the movie, I can guarantee you that it's a faithful and beautiful adaptation that will take your breath away just like the book did.
The book in a quote
"As I look out at all of you gathered here, I want to say that I don't see a room full of Parisians in top hats and diamonds and silk dresses. I don't see bankers and housewives and store clerks. No. I address you all tonight as you truly are: wizards, mermaids, travelers, adventurers, and magicians. You are the true dreamers."