Saturday 23 July 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

I've been wanting to read this book since I first heard about it a few years ago. There was such a lot of hype surrounding this book. So I was very excited to finally get to reading it. Thankfully the wait was worth it.

This book does defy description somewhat. People struggle to classify it. They call it a graphic novel. But it's not just that. They call it a picture book. But it's much more than that too. They call it a unique blend, and it possibly is that. 

The best description I've seen is a silent film on paper. That really nails it for me. It's an intriguing format for a book. A book like no other. 

one of my favourite drawings

he's so obsessed with where the page turn goes, that sometimes the page looks like this

and other times it's like this

A simple story on some levels, but with some rather extraordinary differences. Hugo is a young boy living alone within the walls of a Parisian train station. That's an unusual place to start. Like all the best childrens books there are no annoying custodial adults to get in the way of the story. Hugo has been orphaned, then lives with his uncle at the train station, but his uncle has disappeared several months before our story starts in 1931.

Hugo has a number of secrets. He lives in secret at the train station. He keeps the clocks of the station working in secret. He carries a notebook that has a special significance for him, and he has an intriguing plan to repair a secret object. 

Indeed the particular Parisian train station is kept secret from us for a frustrating 382 pages, before we can put our curiosity to rest. Suddenly Hugo has a dream about an accident that occurred at his station 36 years ago, when a train came in too quickly and crashed through the front of the building. This accident famously happened at Gare Montparnasse. The picture of the accident is incorporated into the book.

The story encompasses so many elements- magic, friendship, loneliness, grief, alcoholism, early French cinema. And it's all presented in a unique, groundbreaking and prizewinning style. I really love books that base their fiction in fact, the best fantasy is often achieved this way. Selznick has taken the story of Georges Melies, and a train station in Paris, and constructed an amazing thing. People who have read the book all seem to go trawling via google for more background, which is surely a sign that the book is doing something.

In this video Brian Selznick explains some of his inspiration for writing the book, and his fascinating methods for constructing the book. There are many, many more videos out there about the book, it's quite extraordinary. I've spent quite a bit of time watching these videos, and love the fact that Brian Selznick named Hugo after a toy from his own childhood.


I do so love that we live in the Google age and it is so easy to find and watch things like Georges Melies original film A Trip to the Moon from 1902! How extraordinary is that? Martin Scorcese is making a film of Hugo Cabret which will be released later this year, so our Hugo experience can live on. 


Ellie said...

Thanks for sharing the video. I don't know how we coped before the internet!

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

This is one of my favorite books which I bought right after it was published, having heard a review on PBS (I think).

I love the format, the setting (bien sûr!), the story and unanswered questions. I had not seen the video... merci!

Now, I am going to take off the shelf and enjoy it again.


Louise said...

I don't know how we did either Ellie, there's so much out there.

Genie- glad I could show you something new about a favourite, and help to send you back for another look! It is a wonderful book. I'm going to try and get my son interested after he finishes his current book.

Julie P. said...

I have been wanting to read this one ever since hearing Mr. Selznick speak at BEA this year. His illustrations are amazing!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I'm imagining an e-book of Hugo Cabret, with links and imbedded footnotes and video clips. What a rich experience!

Thank you for this lovely review, Louise!

Satia said...

Oh yes, I loved this book and I am eager to share it with my granddaughter when she is older. My niece is only a year or two away from receiving it from me, her book giving aunt. I hope to see them both grow into book addicts because none of my children managed to do so. :(

Louise said...

Julie- it's a relatively quick read, with so many illustrations, and well worth it.

That sounds just perfect doesn't it Debbie? Not that I've ever really read an ebook- just Pinocchio on my phone, and it didn't have any special extra features. But I can see what you mean I think, and it sounds amazing.

I hope your granddaughter likes it too. I haven't completely succeeded with my son either (yet), but he's interested in stories (probably movies more than books at the moment), and still like our evening read, so while he doesn't read compulsively, I think that's a great love to have passed on.

Parisbreakfasts said...

thank you for the link to your terrific post.
I must read the book!
merci carolg

Louise said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post Carol. I'm sure you'd love the book-it's right up your alley I think.