The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (ages 8 and up) is a novel in words and pictures, an intriguing mystery set in 1930s Paris about an orphan, a salvaged clockwork invention, and a celebrated filmmaker. It takes the illustrated novel to a whole new level. Or it puts a spin on the current resurgence of graphic novels. I’m not sure exactly which one. Not that it matters because it’s a bit of a quiet masterpiece.
Once you open this book, you”ll understand how it can become addictive. You want to pick it up over and over, paging back and forth, studying the illustrations, scanning the details and searching the character’s faces.
It’s the story of orphan boy, clock keeper, and thief named Hugo who lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life and his most precious secret are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.
The result is somewhat similar to a graphic novel, but experiencing its mix of silvery pencil drawings and narrative interludes is ultimately more akin to watching a silent film. This hybrid creation, which also includes movie stills and archival photographs, is unexpected and often poignant.
It’s no surprise that movie titan Martin Scorsese is directing the film adaptation to be released next year. Please don’t tell Mr. Scorsese that I said this, but I sort of doubt even he can do cinematic justice to this fanciful tale. Either which way, please please please read the book before you see the film.