The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick resembles, not so much a book, as a treasure box. Just look at its cover, complete with the lock. Even it's size and heft resemble a box. Don't be fooled by its size though, it is a quick read as more than half of it is pictures. Beautifully detailed emotive pictures. And the prose works with them to magically bring the story to life. You know those times when you finish a book and sit there holding it for a moment knowing you have something precious in your hands? Something that came from the mind of a master whose genius you could never hope to comprehend? Finishing this was one such time for me.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Orphan Hugo Cabret lives in a wall. His secret home is etched out in the crevices of a busy Paris train station. Part-time clock keeper, part-time thief, he leads a life of quiet routine until he gets involved with an eccentric, bookish young girl and an angry old man who runs a toy booth in the station. The Invention of Hugo Cabret unfolds its cryptic, magical story in a format that blends elements of picture book, novel, graphic novel, and film. Caldecott Honor-winning author-illustrator Brian Selznick has fashioned an intricate puzzle story that binds the reader like a mesmerist's spell.
Selznick won the 2008 Caldecott for this book and it is well deserved. I don't generally comment on art in books because what I know about art I could write on my little finger nail. I know what I like though, and it is this. The details, the facial expressions, the light, the feelings they evoke. I love everything about them. There are several pictures of Hugo, wrapped in a threadbare coat, on the snowy streets of Paris at night that made me shiver.
The pace of the book very much reminded me of the trains that arrive and depart from Hugo's home. The story starts out slow, little pieces of information being handed out like pieces of a puzzle, and then the pace builds until you are speeding along rapidly. The puzzle pieces seem to come together and then are jostled apart. Soon the pace has reached such a speed you just know it is going to lose control and crash. Except you are in the hands of a brilliant conductor and he knows his machine well. How this pace mimics the story itself is brilliance.
The prose works with the pictures to fill in the gaps and completes the life of the story. Hugo is a sympathetic character and the reader can feel his sadness, desperation, anger, hope, and yearning. The pictures and words work together to give the reader an entirely different experience than most novels (or even graphic novels). I have not been as annoyed with a character as I was with Isabelle at times. Or as angry as I was at Georges. Or as afraid of the elusive and shadowy figure of the Station Master. Everything Hugo was feeling was projected in me which is the power of a great story teller.
Selznick's new picture novel Wonderstruck will be released on September 13 and I can't wait.