When literary and cinematic techniques perfectly blend

Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. A Novel in Words and Pictures

Scholastic Press, New York, 536p


Do you know that feeling when you finish reading a book and you cannot enjoy its real quality because you already begin feeling melancholy? It is a 526-page book but I have read it in a few hours taking joy of the perfect illustrations, the enigmatic situations and discovering the individuality of each character. As the author says on his presentation site,

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things.

It is a historical fiction book inspired by Georges Méliès, a famous French filmmaker in the early days of cinema. His movie, A Trip to the Moon, 1902 is considered to be one of the first science fiction movies and it is one of the nucleuses of the book, sending the readers back to the origins of the films and underlining the idea of magic and fantasy through movies:

The filmmaker Georges Méliès began his career as a magician and he owned a theater of magic in Paris. This connection with magic helped him immediately understand what the new medium of film was capable of. He was among the first to demonstrate that film didn’t have to reflect real life. He quickly realized that film had the power to capture dreams. Méliès is widely credited with perfecting the substitution trick, which made it possible for things to appear and disappear on screen, as if by magic. This changed the face of movies forever.(p354-355)

The story is placed in 1931 in Paris. Hugo Cabret, the main character, is an orphan living in the walls of a train station. He is 12.

His father worked in a museum where he found an automaton. Hugo and his father tried to repair the machine believing that once fixed it would write a message. Unfortunately, Hugo’s father died in a fire at the museum and the boy was taken by his drunken uncle who made him quit school and steal for food. One night his uncle disappeared so the boy begins keeping the clocks going in the train station, his survival and independence depending on preserving things unchanged.

Having his father’s notes, Hugo tries to fix the automaton by himself, convinced that it might deliver a message from his parent. He steals small electric parts from a toy booth in the station, until, one day he is caught by the shopkeeper, Papa Georges, who takes his notebook and makes Hugo work for him. Hugo meets Isabelle, the god niece of the shopkeeper and they become friends.  Isabelle promises to find the notebook for Hugo and takes him to library and to movies. Soon the boy begins to believe in magic again.

Hugo fixes the automaton and turns it on by stealing a heart-shaped key Isabelle was wearing at her neck. After a fight because of all the secrets that jeopardize their friendship, the children watch, with their hearts racing, the mechanical man drawing a rocket shooting a face in the moon. It signed Georges Méliès, the name of Isabelle’s godfather.

The second part of the novel explains all the mysteries, secrets and symbols of the book. It is all about dreams and passion, about talent and beginning of cinematography. The drawing is a scene from A Trip to the Moon and the automaton used to belong to Georges Méliès. Fixing the mechanical man, Hugo Cabret brought to life old memories that affected all the characters but they all manage to transform past into the best memories for the present.

I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too, Hugo tells Isabelle. (p378)

I highly recommend this novel to all children 9+ and to all adults, especially the ones who love films and would enjoy discovering cinematic techniques in a book. The design is perfect. The text and the illustrations blend in perfect harmony and the result is absolutely fantastic.


P.S. Don’t forget to look up on internet for automata, they are amazing.

You can find the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=wordstoworlds


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