“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick

I watched and enjoyed the 2011 movie adaptation by Martin Scorsese and have just gotten around to reading the actual book. I’ve heard many high praises for Selznick’s illustrations and stories, but have never read anything by him until this book. I wasn’t surprised that I enjoyed what I read, but I appreciated that the illustrations are as integral to the story as the words.

Quick summary:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an illustrated middle-grade historical-fiction novel about a 12-year-old orphan boy named Hugo who maintains the clocks at a busy Paris train station. Hugo’s father, a clock maker, died in a fire, leaving Hugo with a notebook and a broken automaton to remember him by.

Hugo was sent to stay with his uncle, a drunk who managed the clocks at the train station. However, Hugo’s uncle disappeared some time ago leaving Hugo in charge of the station’s clocks and fending for himself. Since Hugo is unable to cash his uncle’s checks, he has resorted to theft to get food and as well as supplies for the automaton, which he hopes will give him a message from his father once fixed.

But Hugo’s hope is dashed when he is caught stealing from a toy shop at the station and has his notebook, which contains his father’s diagrams of the automaton, confiscated by the owner. With the help of the shop owner’s niece, Hugo tries to get back his notebook and learns more about the automaton’s origin. (Goodreads)

My thoughts:

I don’t have much to say about the story, actually. It was sweet and I enjoyed it. However, the old Georges Méliès films mentioned tickled my mind. I’m pretty sure I heard of him prior to reading this book or watching the movie years ago.

Though I’ve heard many people talk about Selznick’s books, I didn’t expect him to place as much importance on the illustrations as he does on the words. Sometimes when a book has illustrations, the illustrations are simply there to accompany the words and enhance what the words say. But in Selznick’s book, the illustrations are integral to the story and is sometimes used to relay parts of the story. In that way, we are given a book that is sometimes silent when telling the story, leaving us to simply follow the plot’s progress by sight and observation.

I guess in that way it’s like a silent film, thus harking back to its subject, Georges Méliès and the influence he had on the movie industry. Speaking of which, I like how Hugo and Isabelle sought to help the toy shop owner, by considering him as somewhat like a machine that has forgotten what it was built for — lost his sense of purpose. Purpose gives us drive and without it, we tend to wander aimlessly.

That message resonated with me because it was something I thought often about in college as my final year drew closer and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I changed my major so many times, but one thing remained constant and that’s whatever I chose, it involved writing, so I followed that interest and it has paid off so far (well, still paying off since I’m still paying my student loans).

Art style:

Selznick is very talented. All the illustrations are drawn and shaded in pencil on watercolor paper and were all easy to follow and understand. Because they were done in pencil, all the illustrations have a softness to them that works well with the story, which was sweet and comforting toward its end.

Of all the illustrations, my favorites are the close-ups of the characters’ faces. I really like how Selznick draws eyes and noses. Also, it was weird reading because I got so used to the illustrations that in areas where I read words, in my mind I’d imagine what’s being narrated as a pencil illustration.

Overall: ★★★★☆

It’s a sweet story that places as much emphasis on the illustrations as on the words to tell the story.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

I probably won’t buy it, but I selected “buy” because it will be worth it if you do.


4 thoughts on ““The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick

  1. I loved this book, and I love Brian Selznik’s way of integrating illustrations and story. As you point out, the illustrations are part of the story, not just decorative or highlighting something we’ve read in words. I highly recommend Wonderstruck and The Marvels too!


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