My review of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret

A friend of mine told me about this book not too long ago, and then I read that Thingy had enjoyed Selznick’s book Wonderstruck, but since Hugo Cabret was written first, I thought I’d check it out first.

The book is quite interesting in that it makes use of illustrations to tell the story. By that I mean not simply that it illustrates scenes from the text, but rather that it alternates telling the story in text, then in pictures, then back to text again. This quality makes it hard for me to discuss the actual story in this review, since it’s hard to describe it without including all the pictures. Besides, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. So, my review focuses mostly upon the book’s style rather than its story.

I will say, however, that the story is quite cute–it’s intended for children, so perhaps there were times when certain plot elements were obvious to me, but the intended audience would not have seen them coming. But it’s still a very good little tale even without the innovative method of telling.

This method, however, is definitely the book’s big selling point, and with good reason. Selznick’s pictures call to mind a storyboard, and with good reason, given the subject of the story. Moreover, the alternation of pictures and text gives a “pace” to the flow of the story that would be quite unachievable otherwise.

It’s not always perfect–there were a few scenes where I felt the illustrations were unnecessary, and a few where I couldn’t make out what I was looking at very easily, which is a problem when the picture is integral to the story. But even so, when it works, it works very well. There are times when the pictures flow together like a 1930s-style animation–a quality which, again, is highly relevant to the story, for reasons which I will let you discover.

I think Selznick’s style is very clever, and may indeed be put to even more ambitious use than it is in Hugo Cabret. For some reason–perhaps simply the Parisian setting the two stories share–I thought it would be interesting to see H.P. Lovecraft’s The Music of Erich Zann adapted in this style. Selznick’s illustrations have a mysterious and otherworldly quality that would lend itself well to a horror story, even though Hugo Cabret is certainly not that.

At any rate, it’s an innovative book. I encourage you to check it out.

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