Jul 27, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a wonderful combination of picture book and traditional narrative. Set in 1931, it tells the story of an orphan, Hugo Cabret, who works at a busy train station in Paris as a clock keeper. Hugo started out as an apprentice to his uncle, but ever since his disappearance he’s been trying to make it look like his uncle is still around, or else he will be out of a place to live. Hugo’s life changes when he crosses paths with an old man who runs a toy booth at the station; with the man’s bookish granddaughter, Isabelle; and with an old automaton, which Hugo hopes will provide a link to his deceased father.

The reasons why I loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret were different from the reasons why I usually love a novel, but then again that’s hardly surprising, as Selznick’s work is very much unlike most novels. While I tend to be primarily drawn to characterisation and theme, what hooked me here was first of all the visual feast Brian Selznick’s artwork provides. Then there is also the superb evocation of the time period: Selznick’s drawings and his brief but vivid descriptions do a wonderful job of bringing 1930’s Paris to life.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is inspired by the life and work of early filmmaker Georges Méliès, which means that as the story progresses, it also begins to evoke an earlier time period: the turn of the twentieth century and the many artistic innovations that characterised it. This is the world of favourite books of mine such as The Children’s Book or The Hare With Amber Eyes, so it’s really not surprising that I was immediately hooked.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is most of all a love letter to early cinema. It does a wonderful job of conveying how revolutionary, surprising and wonderful early twentieth-century filmmaking was, and how much it did to change how people thought of art in general. Brian Selznick includes several references to real films throughout the book, and also to anecdotes and myths surrounding early cinema – for example, the legend surrounding the first showing of the Lúmieres’ “L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat”, according to which the audience panicked because they believed they were truly in the way of a moving train.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Le voyage dans la lune
The most famous image from Georges Méliès’ 1902 Le Voyage Dans La Lune, which plays a key role in the story.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret has been adapted into a movie named “Hugo” by Martin Scorsese, which will be released in November this year. I’m not always the biggest fan of book to movie adaptations (I tend to get too attached to the story as I first encountered it), but in this case it seems only fitting. You can see the trailer below:


More than anything else, I hope the movie keeps the book’s evocative and pitch-perfect tone and its unique feel.

Other points of view: Distant Voices and Flickering Shadows, The Avid Reader's Musings, Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Books, You've GOTTA Read This, The Novel World, Becky's Book Reviews, Booklust, Rebecca Reads, Lakeside Musings, The Written World

(Please let me know if I missed yours.)

29 comments:

  1. Hugo Cabret is a beautiful book in so many ways. I read it a few years back and was so impressed I passed it around to several people. I enjoyed the fact that it was inspired by the work of a real, and very fascinating, person. I believe it was the audio version of this that had an accompanying DVD with it that was very interesting, with the author talking about the book. I imagine you can find it all on YouTube now. I had a friend check it out from the library after he read my copy of the book and I remember really enjoying it.

    I recently stumbled across the trailer for the film. Had no idea they were adapting it. It looks very, very good. This is one I will definitely be seeing in the theater.

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  2. Selznick spoke at BEA and I got a copy of his next book, and the illustrations are amazing. I need to get a copy of this too.

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  3. This was such a wonderful book! Had no idea there was an upcoming film.... hoping for the best.

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  4. I loved this book! I picked it up on a whim when it first came out and I loved it. I am hoping the movie will be all right...

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  5. I haven't read this one but it seems like perfect. The cover reminds me of old picture books that I love. The images are so beautiful.
    I can't wait for the movie.

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  6. Sandy loved this book as well, and we talked about it over lunch one day. I need to get my butt in gear and read it before the movie comes out this year, as it sounds so wonderful and engaging. I love the artwork as well. It's so precise and detailed, and I could really get a feel for the story just by looking at it. Glad to hear that this one was a winner for you. It goes on my library holds list. Great review!

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  7. I've had my copy of this book since 2009 but I haven't found the time to read it yet *shakes fist at TBR pile* I'm going to pick it up in August though because I'm participating in a read along with another blogger. I hope I enjoy it as much as you did. :) I'm excited to browse through all the illustrations.

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  8. I loved Hugo Cabret--I think it would be a great interactive book for parents and children to read together.

    I recently listened to a Dinner Party Download podcast in which Terry Gilliam, the director of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, was interviewed. During the interview, he dropped the following bit of trivia: "In Dr. Parnassus, the end scene takes place with Parnassus selling toys to children, and that scene was based on George Melies, the famous silent film maker who, in his dotage, had run out of money and opened a little stall outside of one of the train stations in Paris, selling toys to children."

    It had been a few years since I read Hugo Cabret, but when I heard that, I wondered if Hugo Cabret was related some how. I haven't seen Dr. Parnassus, but now I think I'd like to watch it and Hugo as a double feature. (The fact that Jude Law is tied to both doesn't hurt either!)

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  9. I loved this one!! I read it awhile ago, I think I just randomly picked it up at the library. I wasn't looking for it, but it was fantastic and gorgeous. Thank you for letting me know about the movie coming out!!

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  10. This is the glowing third review I've read for this book. Brian Selznick is such a talented artist. Have you seen this video that details this drawing process? It is fascinating: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdiFdTe2Z18

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  11. I'm so glad you loved it! I felt completely carried away by the drawings and story. I can't wait to see the movie.

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  12. I read this back in April last year and absolutely adored it! I've seen the previews for the movie and it really does seem interesting - I also listened to the audio version where the pictures were turned into sound. Very fascinating. :D

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  13. I loved this too, and can't wait to see the movie!

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  14. I remember when I first read this book, people were talking about how the line between graphic novels and regular books was being blurred over time. And I must say, there haven't been nearly enough line-blurring books since then! I thought the way this was done was incredibly cool, and I am not just saying that because of my bias in favor of pictures in books.

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  15. I have to admit, this book didn't wow me as much as I expected it to. The person who recommended it RAVED about it, and maybe that's one of the reasons I was disappointed with it - it didn't quite live up to the hype. While I loved how Selznick moved from text to illustration (really, really loved the illustrations!) the writing itself left a lot to be desired. I think I'm alone in this sentiment, however; most people seem to really like it.

    I'm with Jenny, though - there hasn't been very much line-blurring since this book was published, which is very disappointing. You would think this book's success would have inspired more graphic novel/novel books. It's too bad that it hasn't.

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  16. I was recommended this book by another blogger just recently...and I read it and absolutely loved it. So far, it's the best book I've read this year, because it's...I don't know...just so magical. However, I thought your review did a much better job of describing it than I could have -- if I had tried to do in a review which I didn't. Nicely done review...not that I expected otherwise from a pro blogger like yourself :).

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  17. This is a book to be savored and read multiple times. Add in just looking at the pictures too. I loved this story and always recommend to my middle school readers! I hope the movie is good!!

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  18. I am so excited you loved it too! I think the pictures provided a unique characterization of their own and like you, I am hoping it translates well to the screen. I was uncertain, but the trailer gives me hope!

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  19. Every time I see a review of this I think that it must be beautiful to look at... I want to buy a lovely edition of this one, it seems that's the best way to enjoy it.

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  20. I've had this on my wishlist for a while now (amongst lots of others). The trailer looks great so I'm looking forward to seeing the film too.

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  21. Wonderful review, Ana! I have been wanting to read this book for ages! Glad to know that you liked it. It is amazing what Selznick has done - integrating features of a novel, a graphic novel and a movie into his book. I don't know how it will work as a movie - I think it will be extremely difficult to bring the effect of the book on the screen because of the unique way it has been written. Thanks for this wonderful review :)

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  22. I've heard about this book for awhile now, but have never looked at it! Such lovely illustrations. Thanks for including them.

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  23. This book has been on my radar for a while. Such beautiful pictures.

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  24. I loved this one, the drawings are just fantastic and I went out a got a copy for my school library. Now I have to find one for myself:) I had no idea it was being made into a film but with Scorsese involved it should be interesting.

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  25. I knew you'd love this! So glad you finally read it. We had a lot of fun, after I read it with my kids, watching the old movies mentioned in the book. I'm glad some of them are still around, although it's sad that many were lost.

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  26. The premier for this movie kind of worries me.

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  27. Ooooh…I did not know that they were making this into a movie!! I still need to read this…I have no idea why I haven't yet!!

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  28. Love the book too (:
    The pictures are absolutely beautiful!
    Thankyou Brian Selznik!

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.