The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures by Brian Selznick
This book has a fascinating concept. It’s a chunkster of over 500 pages that can be read in just a couple of hours for over half the pages are pictures – black and white pencil drawings mostly. But it’s not a graphic novel, this book is full of a deep love for the pioneers of cinema. The sequences of drawings within are intentioned as sequences of frames in a film which you can flick through like a flip book to fully get the sense of movement in them – zooming in on a detail, or panning and scanning as you follow a character around between written scenes. It also happens to be beautifully designed with black edges which frame the pages and set off the drawings, and later some historic photos and film stills, to a T.
To the story briefly:- Paris in the 1930s. Hugo is an orphan who lives inside the walls of a railway station where he has taken over his Uncle’s job as clock-keeper. His Uncle disappeared one day and Hugo, whose father had been an horologist and mechanic, has been able to keep all the clocks of the station working without being seen. Hugo’s grand project is to restore an automaton that he rescued from the museum fire that his father perished in. He has quietly been stealing parts from clockwork toys from the station’s toy stall – but one day he’s caught by the stall’s owner, Georges – a rather depressed old man, and later meets his ward Isabelle …
It’s an enchanting story, well-told and the illustrations really do add a cinematic feel. You could easily envision a film of this tale and the pictures do make the book. Children from about 8 and upwards will enjoy it as I did – It’s certainly left me wanting to find out more about the early days of photography and cinema. (9/10)
It is set in Paris as is The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner which also featured a kind of automaton, as did The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke with its Venetian ‘magic’ roundabout!
Then there is the whole business of wind-up mechanisms – The mouse and his child by Russell Hoban was about broken clockwork mice, and a wind-up mouse gets broken in Hugo Cabret too.
Then we have clocks and time itself – Hugo knows all about clocks; Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson is about a particular clock that can control time; and Numbers by Rachel Ward is all about dates.
… and now I’ve just started my second novel set in Venice …