Thursday, January 31, 2013

For the Young at Heart

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick
Rating: 4.0/5.0

If you are looking for something different, here's an interesting choice. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is intended for younger readers so it's not very dense. It is beautifully illustrated by Selznick himself. There is mystery, adventure, and for adult readers who can read between the lines, the story is quite moving.

Hugo lives in the walls of a train station in Paris. His parents are dead and his uncle, who maintained the clocks in the station, has disappeared. Hugo continues to fix the clocks himself so no one knows that his uncle is missing, and no one knows Hugo exists. From behind the walls, Hugo watches a toy shop owner work and occasionally steals from him. One day, he gets caught and the shop owner takes something very valuable from Hugo, which he must work to earn back. Adventure and mystery follows.

I really liked the way Selznick blends illustrations, photos, and text to tell parts of the story. It adds a level of suspense and sympathy for the characters that wouldn't be the same without the pictures. I also enjoyed that the story turned out to be a bit of historical fiction. The toy shop owner is Georges Melies, who developed many of the early special effects techniques in movies back in the late 1800s/early 1900s. The real Melies actually did end his career as a poor toy maker. Here, Selznick imagines a bit of Melies' life during that time. Selznick's target audience won't get the reference but as an adult, it was very interesting and it motivated me to look him up and learn more about him.

There is a movie based on the book, called Hugo. I haven't seen it yet so I can't say how it compares, but the trailer does give you a feel for the story:

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