There are MINOR spoilers.
More than a couple of years ago now, I was on holiday in a little seaside town in England when I wandered into a shop that sold novelty items and clothing. On one of the shelves sat The Invention of Hugo Cabret and it was being sold for only £4. I knew a little about it and that most people generally liked it so I bought it. I didn’t, however, read it until today which is something that I deeply regret because this book is fantastic.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a children’s historical fiction that follows Hugo, a twelve-year-old boy who is a timekeeper and thief, living and working out of a busy train station in Paris. Throughout the book, Hugo is trying to repair an automaton which leads to a mystery surrounding a piece of artwork and the world of movies.
It’s such a good book! Don’t let the fact it’s a children’s book put you off because I genuinely think this is a book for everyone. It’s also incredibly short. While there is a significant amount of writing there is also a ton of pictures. I was able to read the whole thing in a couple of hours. Even if you were to look at every picture in excruciating detail, it wouldn’t take you much longer than it took me. Speaking of the pictures, they all look like rough sketches but at the same time appear to be perfectly executed. They are both messy and pristine.
[At the end of this post, there is an example of the illustrations found within the book to give you an idea. The only thing I have done is brighten the image slightly.]
The drawings mixed with the writing often at times reminded me of old silent films, which makes sense considering this book is partly about Georges Méliès, a real-life French illusionist and film director who worked in the earliest days of cinema. Some of the inspiration for the story came from real life accounts and facts of Méliès’ life. Brian Selznick talks about this at the end of the book and even offers up links to find out more information. Throughout the book, there is also stills from silent films that, thanks to the overall black and white tone of the book, blend in really well with the drawings. Selznick also cites these stills at the end of the book, giving details of where they came from as well as referencing all of the short films mentioned (plus some recommendations).
Everything about this book, from a visual stand-point, blended in really well but so did the story. At its core, it’s such a simple plot. Its structure is superb and it’s pacing even better. It did genuinely feel like I was watching a movie rather than reading a book which worked so well. As I said before, it’s a quick read but every single second of it is enjoyable. There’s a really good mystery that lasts a good amount of time and the payoff feels great. It also, although it’s not, feels like a fantasy. There’s something kind of magical about it which fits in really well with the setting and the story itself.
Overall, I definitely think this is a book that everyone should check out at least once.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ /5