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The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

December 9, 2011

Orphan, clock-keeper and thief, twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlock with an eccentric girl and her grandfather, Hugo’s undercover life and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery. 

I remember when I first saw this book when I started working as a bookseller, and I was in complete awe of its beautiful design and the wonderful illustrations by Brian Selznick himself. But for some sad reason, it has taken until now, after the film has just been released in cinemas, for me to actually purchase it. Maybe a part of me thought, after finding it in the 9-12 age department, that it would perhaps be a bit too young for me to enjoy. However, I honestly don’t know why I ever thought such a thing. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is the kind of novel anyone from age 9 to 100 could enjoy. When I reviewed Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children a few months ago, I remarked on how it takes beautiful books like these to really make you appreciate just how wonderful they can be, to hold in your hands, to read, and to keep throughout your life and pass on to your children. It’s books like these that make you realise e-readers will never replace real books, and I’m saying that as the owner of an e-reader myself. If you are an avid e-reader fan, this could be the book to convert you back to the real thing!

What I got out of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, was actually entirely different to what I was expecting. It is a combination of words, drawings, photographs and movie stills, and is extremely different to anything I’ve read before. You might think the mix of mediums here is slightly bizarre, but it is beautifully done to create something wholly original and utterly captivating. It’s certainly no surprise that this was the first novel to win the Caldecott Medal back in 2008, after primarily being an award for picture books. Selznick has written the kind of story that will undoubtedly appeal to both adults and children. At first it’s simply about a young orphan who lives at the train station in 1930s Paris, who is trying to fix a broken automaton found by his now deceased father. But at the heart of the novel lies the true story of early filmmaker Georges Méliès, and his collection of windup automata. Georges Méliès is often called the first ‘cinemagician’ for his innovative use of special effects. Admittedly, I didn’t know a great deal about Georges Méliès before reading this novel, but I certainly recognised a lot of the images from his movies that Selznick uses throughout the novel.

I really cannot fault this novel in any way – from the lovely heart-warming and intriguing characters, to the beautiful Parisian setting captured so well in Selznick’s drawings, to the intricate designs and workings of the station clocks and the somewhat eerie automaton. Everything has its purpose and place – every word, drawing and photograph. I dare you to find fault in any of it.

All that’s left is for me to sit in awe of Selznick’s talents not only as a writer, but as an artist too. This is a story that I could see becoming a classic in years to come, the sort of story we would love to pass on to future generations. I only hope that Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation can do it justice…

The Invention of Hugo Cabret was published 2007, published by Scholastic Press. The film is in cinemas now, and you can check out the trailer below:



3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2011 20:22

    I’m happy to hear you liked this one! The only flaw in the novel for me (you dared me to find one!) was that Isabelle wasn’t a fully realized character. It seemed like she was just there to link Hugo with Georges Melies and act as a sidekick. We didn’t really learn very much about her, considering how prominent a character she is in the book. Other than that I really enjoyed this novel.

    • December 14, 2011 05:44

      Actually that probably is quite a fair comment, I didn’t really think of it like that before. But yes, I think, looking back, the other characters take over slightly. Are you going to watch the film? I’m going to see it tonight! Let’s hope she’s a bit more developed in the film at least 🙂 It is a wonderful novel though. I wish I could draw like that!


  1. December Summary « Book Monkey

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