Book Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Cover of "The Invention of Hugo Cabret"
Cover of The Invention of Hugo Cabret

In a train station in France lives a little boy named Hugo Cabret.  He’s the nephew of the timekeeper in the train station, and unofficially the apprentice timekeeper.  However, since his uncle went mission some time before, Hugo has been keeping the clocks in the station running by himself.  He’s the only one who knows of his uncle’s disappearance, and as long as he keeps the clocks running, no one else really cares.

But Hugo has more than the station’s clocks on his mind.  Before Hugo’s father died, he found an old, rusty automaton in the attic of the museum where he worked.  Hugo’s father decided to restore the automaton, if possible.  Now, the task has fallen to Hugo, who is following the theories left in his father’s notebook.

For the parts he needs, Hugo steals from the toymaker’s stall in the train station.  But one day, the old man who runs the stall catches him and takes his notebook.  To earn his notebook back, Hugo has to learn to trust this strange old man (whom he learns is called Papa Georges) and work to pay for the parts he stole.

However, Hugo’s tale isn’t as simple as this.  There are plenty of unanswered questions: Why did Papa Georges seem startled by the drawings of the automaton in Hugo’s notebook?  Where did the automaton come from originally?  And why does Isabelle, Papa Georges goddaughter, seem so interested in the automaton?

For fear of spoiling the book, I’ll end my summary there.  Now for the review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures by Brian Selznick is certainly a novel idea.  Sure, the title would have you believe that it’s a picture book or a graphic novel, but trust me when I say that it is neither.  The illustrations, beautifully done in black-and white, are full of detail.  The writing is also well done, but it’s safe to say that the illustrations are the true selling point of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Hugo (film)
Hugo (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re interested in Hugo’s story, there is also a movie adaptation directed by Martin Scorsese.  It is

also beautifully done, and unlike most movie adaptations recently, the story is changed very little from the book.  It was also filmed with 3D camera technology, which means that even in 2D, the image pops.

If you’re caught by this style after reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret, then check out Brian Selznick’s other notable novel: Wonderstruck: A Novel in Words and Pictures.  It’s also well-done, but I’ll leave that review for another time.

Happy reading!


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