Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

Home > CR Reviews

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
posted January 25, 2007


Creator: Brian Selznick
Publishing Information: Scholastic, softcover, 544 pages, March 2007, $22.99
Ordering Numbers: 9780439813785 (ISBN13)

Illustrators Brian Selznick's new children's book is a prose novel with a gimmick, but not the one you're initially led to believe it will be. Nearly half of the 500-plus pages are given over to page to page comics sequences, done in Selznick's lovingly shaded black and white, that flow smoothly from prose section to prose section without pause, like being plunged underwater and having to view things different for a moment. There's no particular type of sequence he leans towards in comics form -- the reader will find action sequences as well as close studies -- although it seems that within those moments Selznick favors oblique captures of faces and hands.

What's special about Invention of Hugo Cabret isn't the use of sequential storytelling -- we've seen that before -- but that its use corresponds to the story's recurring employment of silent movie imagery and valuations, film's ability to capture attention and provide moments of awe. I don't think I can recall one type of art standing in for another quite like that before, and the overall effect is of being plunged into a moment in visceral fashion, the way a memory of participating in a story being told might overtake a practiced version that you describe over coffee.

Beyond that, I'm not immersed enough in young adult literature to give you a fair appraisal of the book overall, to know what I'm reacting to because of the story itself as opposed to what might be novel because I don't regularly read such books. It definitely is that kind of work, too. My suspicion is that it's pretty good. I enjoyed it, and I can imagine it holding the attention of a younger version of me, and it's sturdy; you don't feel manipulated while reading it, and you don't know exactly where it's going to go for long stretches at a time. The story has a generosity that forgives people who do harmful things in trying to help. If I were to read it again, it would be with close attention to effect over story. But I think it's likely I will pick the book up again, and that by itself is worth a mention.