The Invention of Hugo Cabret (by Brian Selznick)

15 08 2011

For the cat, who’s not really a graphic novel buff, what Brian Selznick tries to accomplish with The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a unique feat: fusing together elements from such different artistic worlds such as picture book, graphic novel, children’s book, historical novel, silent movie and photography… It takes a daredevil or a con artist to pull it off, and Brian Selznick is probably both.

This book reads like a silent movie. Even though Selznick clearly also wants to tell a story – that of 12-year-old Hugo who lives in the walls of a Paris train station and the link this boy has with movie pioneer Georges Méliès – the strength of this book undoubtedly lies in the visual aspects and as such it mimics the sensory audience experience of movies from the silent era. The stunning images, a combination of Selznick’s drawings and stills from silent movies,  are the elements that will draw in even the most reluctant of readers, despite the 500+ page count.

The story in The Invention of Hugo Cabret is told straightforwardly. The first ever movie also seemingly just showed a train arriving in a station. Yet the realism of it all managed to scare the audience in such a way that it believed the train was coming at them and was not just a train shown on a screen. Of course even this realistic movie held in itself a belief in illusion and a willingness to be deceived. In The Invention of Hugo Cabret the story also moves forward at a steady pace, yet also manages to trick the reader and give him/her a similar sensational thrill of wonder and amazement. There are no flash backs here and character development is kept to a minimum. The focus is entirely on the action of the story which is pushed forward by the visual elements of the book.

The nay-sayers will argue that the story is too simple even, but the cat feels this would be an injustice to what Selznick tries to accomplish. It is true that his strength is the visual, but considering the fact that this is a book that can and should appeal to as wide an audience as possible, the story structure and the pacing of the story itself is just spot on. Any more lingering on character would be detrimental to the magic of the format.  The story structure is most akin to fairy tales, which also display straightforward storytelling yet have the widest possible appeal. And just like in a fairy tale, you get the constant sense of wonder, the magic touch, that is both haunting and mesmerizing. The cat is sure many adults would like to get that feeling back they had when they first were told a story, or a fairy tale, by their parents (way before they knew how misogynistic and cruel fairy tales often were, of course). It’s this sense of wonder that Selznick tries to capture with his images, his storytelling, the very subject of the book…

The cat started reading this book about a boy living in the walls of a Paris train station, on a train ride no less, together with the kid. The kid was fascinated when she saw Hugo running through tunnels, climbing into the walls, winding up the station clocks. Despite the fact that the kid is only 3.5, she was clearly enthralled by the magic and wonder on these pages and wanted the cat to carry on with the story. This book will work perfectly as a story book for other cats who want to read together with their kids. But at the same time as being entertained for a while, this child will be introduced to the world of reading, the world of book illustrations (Selznick’s art is both gorgeous and haunting at the same time, his play with shadows is simply stunning), but most of all to the magic world of silent movies, through the history of one of its pioneers, Georges Méliès. One book to introduce your kid to all these different art forms, … is there anything else an art loving cat could want?

P.S. None other than Martin Scorsese is direction the movie Hugo, which will come out in November 2011. It will be Scorsese’s first 3D film and judging from the trailer, Scorsese is actually going to make a family movie (a family that is not mafia related, that is…).

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