Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Today, I finally "read" The Invention of Hugo Cabret, written and illustrated by Brian Selznick. The use of quotes around the word "read" is purposeful, because as anyone who's opened the book knows, at least half of the book is composed of pencil drawings (and the occasional photograph). The pictures in this book do not illustrate the text, however -- they continue it. It's not a graphic novel, it's not a picture book, it's not even a novel with illustrations. Publishers Weekly called it "an artful blending of narrative, illustration and cinematic technique, for a story as tantalizing as it is touching." I'd have to say they got it just right.

I bought this book the week it came out, only it went into the mountainous TBR pile. Two months ago, M "rescued" it and devoured it. She was so pleased that she could finish such a thick book (over 500 pages) in less than a day, but truly, text takes up significantly fewer pages than that, and where it does exist, it's in a good-sized font with a lot of white space. End result? It took me a little over an hour and twenty minutes to read the whole thing. And no, I don't speed-read. Let me just hint that the magical, cinematical quality of the book is a visual echo of the story it holds.

The story follows Hugo Cabret, son of a watchmaker, who is living inside a train station in Paris, and taking care of all the clocks. He's hoping nobody notices that his drunken uncle (the actual clock-keeper) seems to have disappeared. Hugo has lots of secrets -- not just that his uncle is missing, or that he's living alone, stealing food. He also has a secret project, one that has him resorting to stealing toys from an old man with a booth in the station.

Just as the story involves an actual key that makes things work, the identity of the old man is the true key to the book: suffice it to say that there is more to the old toymaker than initially meets the eye, and that much of the story of the old man is based in fact. Still, this is no biography, nor is it a history lesson, although it will doubtless inspire more than one child to read in both of those categories.

You can read PW's interview with Brian Selznick online.

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