I got interested in reading the Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick after I saw the marvelous movie Hugo, which is based upon it. The book has been called a masterpiece, and it really is. A combination of graphic novel and children’s book, about two thirds of it is told in beautiful charcoal drawings that drive the narrative forward.
Hugo is a mechanically gifted boy living secretly in the Paris train station. He keeps the clocks in the train station running in the hopes that no one will discover the absence of his uncle, who is supposed to do the work. He supports himself by stealing food from the cafés in the train station. He doesn’t go to school.
In his spare time he works on an automaton that his father brought home from the museum where he worked shortly before he died. The automaton can write a message, and Hugo believes that if he makes it work, he will receive a message from his father. To get parts for the automaton, he steals toy parts from a stern old toy maker. But one day he is caught.
I did not actually try to use the drawings as a series of flip books but understand that you can, to create black and white movies. And that is a suggestive way of hinting at one beauty of this novel. In the beginning you think you are reading a more or less traditional children’s story but then it shifts to tell a story about the history of the movies. The book is inventive–a graphic novel, a children’s story, a flip book, almost a movie, and a real delight.