The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

I remember buying my beautiful copy of The Invention of Hugo Cabret when I was in the States for a vacation back in 2009. I got the gift edition for just $11 (yay bargain!) and I haven’t gotten around to reading it until this year because of the huge TBR pile. I finally got to pick it up for a read along with my friend Capillya of the fabulous That Cover Girl and fellow Filipino book blogger Aldrin of Fully Booked .Me.

Here’s the summary from the book’s official site:

ORPHAN, CLOCK KEEPER, AND THIEF, twelve-year-old Hugo 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 girl and the owner of a small toy booth in the train 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 all come together… in The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

If you’ve seen an actual copy of this book then you know that it’s quite a doorstopper. But don’t be daunted by the book’s size because it’s actually a quick and fun read with all of the illustrations and black and white pictures interwoven into the story. I only read the book at home, I couldn’t carry it around with me because it was so heavy and I was surprised at how quickly I went through it (didn’t beat Capillya’s record though, she read it in one sitting). I wanted to take pictures of all my favorite scenes in the book but I restrained myself since I couldn’t post all of them anyway. Hugo is a twelve-year-old orphan living in an apartment inside the walls of a train station in Paris. Isn’t it cool that there are apartments IN the walls of the train station? Pretty nifty. His uncle has disappeared and he has no choice but to take over his uncle’s duties as the station’s clock keeper. Hugo does this in secret though because he’s afraid that he’ll be sent to prison or to an orphanage when authorities discover that he’s living on his own. He can’t let that happen because he’s working on a little project. Want to know what that sekrit project is? Then go read the book! Sorry, I don’t want to reveal any spoilers but you find out early on what Hugo’s secret is.

I sympathized with Hugo because he’s obviously smart and has awesome skills when it comes to fixing mechanical devices and yet he was so alone. Poor Hugo. He felt like he couldn’t depend on anyone else so he relied on his own skills (as a sneaky thief) to keep him fed. I think I’ve already established my fondness for thieves in fiction here on the blog. His thieving ways lead him to and old man who owns a toy booth at the station and the old man’s god-daughter. When I think about it, nothing spectacular or unexpected happens in the book but I had so much fun following the story through both pictures and words that I didn’t really mind. Brian Selznick has a unique storytelling method, his artwork tells as much of the story as the text. While I’m not a huge movie buff, I did enjoy learning about the details of the first few films and how they were developed. Now all I have to do is look for these old films so I can watch them. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is one of those books that I can recommend regardless of a person’s preferred genres. It’s a middle grade novel but told in such an unusual format that is really worth checking out. This is the kind of book that you can read even when you’re in the middle of a reading slump because it’s so easy to fall into. I’m looking forward to watching the movie, directed by Martin Scorsese, when it comes out later this year and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be just as enjoyable as the book.

Other reviews:
Fully Booked .Me
The Book Smugglers
Random Musings of a Bibliophile

21 thoughts on “The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

  1. I didn’t know they were making a movie for this expensive picture book! The trailer looks good though.

    I had considered getting this last year but the 1000 price tag was just too much of a hurdle for me. I was curious mainly about the book’s storytelling style and not really about the story. Most of the praises I’ve read were for this aspect and not for its plot.

    I’ll check out the movie. I think this is Scorsese’s first “children’s movie”. Should be interesting.

    • LOL you just had to describe it as an expensive picture book. I didn’t even watch the trailer until I finished reading the book because I didn’t want it to affect my reading experience but yes, it looks good.

      You should get it when the bookstores are on sale, the price isn’t so bad when it’s 20% off, right? Or you can sneak in some reading time in the bookstore when there’s an open copy on their shelves. 😛 I remembered it being expensive so I grabbed a copy when I saw that it’s available for just $11. And it’s a gift edition too with golden/gilded pages. Yep, most people love the book because of the format and that’s one of the reasons why I liked it so much. It’s such a pretty book.

      • I wonder why it’s cheaper over there? It’s a little over P1,000 over here so that should be more than $20 there. Usually books have lower prices here, not the other way around.

  2. I love how I just kinda fell into this book. It’s an easy read, makes you pause to absorb all of its beautiful illustrations, and I agree with you in the fact that it can be enjoyed by any reader, regardless of genre.

    I did end up watching the trailer after reading the book, and wondered if you or Aldrin felt the same way, but…in the book, I felt like Hugo was this kid who had his mind set to do A, B, and C to get things done. He worried when he lost a Certain Thing because then The Master Plan couldn’t be accomplished. He seemed pretty nonchalant, a “get ‘er done” kinda guy. When I watched the movie trailer, I felt like there was so much magic and whimsy, and I didn’t gather any of those thoughts from the book. I felt like Hugo was very level-headed, self-sufficient, and I didn’t see him as this happy-go-lucky “Let’s go save the world and run from station inspectors with glee!” kinda kid.

    Am I the only one who felt this way? What’d you guys think?

    • I felt the same way too. I wanted to pause to admire the beautiful illustrations and I also wanted to look ahead to see what else is in store for me but I didn’t do that because I didn’t want to see spoilers.

      Hmm… I didn’t notice it when I first watched the trailer but what you said makes sense. Hugo is a pretty serious kid in the book and he’s aloof too, it took a while before he was willing to become friends with the rest of the characters. The movie does give of a whimsical vibe, maybe they think that’s what people want? We’ll see if the movie lives up to the novel. I guess one good thing about it is that it will make more people curious about the book so yay more readers.

  3. I agree, Selznick’s “artwork tells as much of the story as the text.” His illustration weren’t put there as mere decoration. I think it’s neat that the book deals greatly with filmmaking while the book itself reads like a film.

    I also sort of agree with Capillya. Hugo is nonchalant, isn’t he? At times he even comes off as pretty emotionless. Perhaps that’s what being alone and having to fend for yourself at such a young age makes you? You learn to just throw whatever extraneous cares you have and just do what has to be done.

    The trailer for Scorsese’ adaptation looks far more fantastical than the book. They’re obviously trying to up its marketability. After all, majority of moviegoers want eye-candy.

    • Yeah, I see what you and C are saying. It feels very a la Potter, which I get. It would be fantastic to garner more readers! I wish the three of us could see the film together. How awesome would that be? 😉

    • The book really does read like a film. I think that’s what the author was going for? In other books, the illustrations are just add-ons, you can still read the story without them but that’s not the case in this one.

      Hugo isn’t a very social person, isn’t he? I agree with you can Capillya, he’s probably used to being alone and not relying on anyone else. He focuses on the things that he wants to get done and that’s all that matters to him.

      Yep, looks like magic is really popular right now so they’re going for that kind of feel for the movie. LOL it would be great if we can watch the movie together! Knowing Aldrin, he’ll probably watch it the day it comes out here (or maybe even the premiere if he manages to get tickets). We can discuss it after we’ve all seen it? Kind of a supplementary watch along to our read along.

  4. My review for this posted earlier today too! I loved it, and yes, the pictures are essential, almost more so than the text. I’m actually nervous about the movie. I think the book’s format is brilliant, much of the brilliance coming from the black and white pictures. There’s magic in black and white, like the early movies. This movie adaptation looks, as some above me noted, like eye candy.

    • Saw your review and left a comment there! Also included the link in the roundup. Hey, you’re right. The black and white illustrations were brilliant. It didn’t even occur to me to imagine what the book would be like if it had colored illustrations. The black and white images add a certain charm to the whole story. It’s perfect for the time period of the book.

  5. Hi Chachic! I got my copy at Celina’s (sans those gorgeous gilded pages though…envy drool :P)! The illustrations really are amazing. You can see the emotion in Hugo’s face, feel the rush when he was running, feel the muffled sound of footsteps on snow, and even the chill of winter. I’m no film buff myself but I also enjoyed reading about Georges Melies and his films. I never even knew he was a real person and how influential he was in the film industry, I found out only after I’ve read the book. I got curious and did a bit of digging on him.

    Oh, I can’t wait for the movie as well. The cast they picked looks awesome. 😛

    • Oh I had no idea Celina had copies of this book. I bet it was a lot cheaper to get it from her than from local bookstores. Yep, the illustrations in this one were so pretty. Like Aldrin said in his comment, the whole book reads like a film. I liked that there were several illustrations dedicated to each scene, giving the impression that the viewpoint (the camera if we’re talking about film) changes. Oh I knew that Georges Melies was real only because there’s a CD included in my copy, which has an interview with Brian Selznick and he talks about Georges Melies in it.

      Maybe I should post a review of the movie after I finish watching it? 😛 That way, you can all comment as well and we can continue the discussion.

      • Yup, I got it from her at a price cheaper than local bookstores.:P
        Very true. I was quite amazed at Selznick’s ability of making the book read like a film. I kept saying, but these are pictures! They aren’t moving! And yet in my head it was like a movie.

        Vigorous nods to the movie review post. 😛

      • Don’t you love how affordable the books are from Celina’s store? 🙂 And she also doesn’t mind when I ask her to get books from Amazon. I actually have a couple of books that I need to get from her.

        Yes, I think that was the idea. 😛 He wanted us to feel the motion even through the pages and he accomplished it through the illustrations that he made.

        All right, I’ll keep that in mind!

  6. Ooh, this sounds lovely. I’ve heard so much about it (it’s hard not too unless you don’t read or live under a rock) but have never gotten close to picking it up or flipping through it. It really looks like my thing. I’m resolving to pick it up before the movie comes out, especially since it’s such a quick, slump-stopping read as you say. Thanks for the review and the pictures! So I’m curious – what’s the ratio of text to illustration?

    • Holly, I really think you’ll enjoy reading this! It’s a combination of book and art so exactly your thing. 🙂 Maybe your library has a copy? It’s a pretty popular book so I have a feeling they have it. Yes, I think it would be a good idea to read this before the movie. Oh my, I have no idea what’s the ratio of text to illustration, maybe half? Or even more.

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  8. Pingback: The Invention Of Hugo Cabret Brian Selznick Book Review

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