The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

This is a newfangled graphic novel with an satisfying story. Hugo Cabret is an orphan who has been abandoned by his drunkard uncle. Hugo hides in the train station, continuing to do his uncle's job of winding the station clocks. He also works on the automaton that he rescued from the rubble of the museum where his father was killed in a fire. The boy has become convinced that, if he can fix the clockwork man whose mechanical hand holds a pen poised over paper, he will find a message from his father. What he finds instead is more complex and leads him on a goose-chase through movie history that ends when our orphan protagonist finds a home with a once-famous filmmaker. The reader has a rare treat in the cinematic complexity of the book, which shifts between textual narrative and black-and-white movie stills reminiscent of silent movies. Indeed, there is some true film history buried in the fictional story.

I found myself wondering about the paper that this required. Even though I appreciated many of the expressive images, there would have been other ways of conveying some of the moods without flipping through so many film stills. There was an eco-friendly designer whose major treatise on design was printed on readily biodegradable paper; at 534 pages, this book could use some environmental friendliness. From a design standpoint, far too many of the book's images are marred or partially obscured by the gutter created by the binding.

Admittedly, fragility is not becoming in a children's book, and this is a solidly children's title; the illustrations are often literal depictions of what is happening. All in all, I enjoyed this greatly, but wished for... more. More surprises in the overall effect of the story, more care in the book design, more impressive art.