I finished The Invention of Hugo Cabret a few weeks ago, and have been struggling with what to say about it. I really liked it and thought it was lovely, but there’s something so simple and straightforward about it that it’s hard to give it the usual review treatment.
Hugo Cabret is an orphaned boy who hides out in a Paris train station. He has been tasked by his uncle, who has since disappeared, with keeping all the clocks in the station running. This he does, but on his own time he works at putting together a damaged automaton which, when restored, he believes will provide him with a secret message from his father. Instead, the automaton’s message is an even greater mystery than its composition, and Hugo gets much more than he bargained for.
This is a beautiful book. It’s a novel in words and pictures, with half of the story in text and the other half in really amazingly detailed line drawings, both supplied by Brian Selznick. It is the first novel to have won the Caldecott Medal, which is an award for illustration in children’s books. As I said, the language is very simple, but that’s part of what makes the novel work so well. Because it’s using pictures, you are invited to truly open your mind’s eye and supply the details for yourself. The story itself is not anything special, as orphans are so often the heroes and heroines of children’s fiction, but the historical aspects give the narrative an added appeal and make the mystery and magic of the whole venture sparkle a little more brightly.
All in all, a very lovely and well-made book. It will take you no time at all to read, and you really ought to. It may pique your curiosity to know that it is being released as a film this holiday season (check out the trailer here), and that the movie is directed by Martin Scorsese. Yes. Scorsese is putting out a movie for kids. I believe that the book’s content is the reason why it appealed to Mr. Scorsese, but that would be spoiling it for you, so you’ll just have to read it yourself and see if you agree with me.