Thursday 7 February 2008

magical monochrome

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
by Brian Selznick

As I have mentioned before I am a sucker for the book-as-art-purchase. Well produced volumes can give so much pleasure just from being taken down from the shelf as anyone who owns a hardback copy of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth will know. So I couldn't resist what is really a children's book when it was so beautifully produced and illustrated.

Hugo Cabret is a 12 year old boy in 1930's Paris, who lives at the train station in a small room behind the workings of the station's clocks. He has been scraping by after the disappearance of his Uncle by stealing what he needs from the stations various kiosks, but he is caught one day by the owner of a toy stall. On turning out his pockets the stall owner, Papa Georges, is shocked to see a notebook containing drawings, notes and diagrams of a mechanical man which Hugo has been working on to repair. What is the connection between this old man and the automata, what secrets of the past has Hugo uncovered and what will it mean for his own future?

The illustrations are gorgeously rendered in dark pencil and the book is a combination of picture book, graphic novel, film storyboard and childrens adventure. Drawing influences from silent movies and the work of Georges Méliès (which features in the story) it conjures beautifully those early days of film experimentation and the magic of discovery is enhanced by the odd double page spread which is a photo or film still rather than illustration. Whilst the book has a satisfying heftiness (534 pages) it is a quick read and one too good to be restricted to children alone.

The book has recently been awarded the Caldecott Medal and movie rights have been optioned with Martin Scorcese mentioned as a possible director.


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