Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, a dual review

Thanks to for the Bookphile for bringing The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck to my attention. Both are beautiful, unique works, novels "in words and pictures" as the subtitle to each says.

Each book intersperses the text with several pages of careful cross-hatched drawings and, in the case of Hugo Cabret, pictures from early movies, that continue the story being told in the text. The picture style is cinematic, often zooming in to a close-up over the course of several pages, giving the full panorama before showing the single person or image that matters.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret tells the story of a young boy who struggles to repair a broken automaton his father had found shortly before he died. The boy, Hugo, is orphaned and living in the train station, keeping the clocks going as best he can while he works on his father's find. In order to continue his work he steals clockwork toys from a booth in the train. When he is caught, he is given a job cleaning and working there and begins to form a friendship with the toy-seller's granddaughter and begins to share her love of the movies. Meanwhile, he still needs to fix the mysterious automaton and find a way to live.

To tell more would be to spoil some of the lovely parts of the book. It unfolds slowly to a 99.9% satisfying end.

That .01%? I couldn't quite believe the new automaton at the end. It's a minor matter, and I hate quibbling, but I just couldn't. Not quite. That should not stop anyone from reading the book, however.

Wonderstruck relies even more heavily on pictures than does The Invention of Hugo Cabret. In fact, while it would be just possible to follow Hugo Cabret's story without the pictures, it would be completely impossible to read Wonderstruck without them. Rose's half the story is told in pictures and only in pictures. I felt no lack of words when I was in her world.

In Wonderstruck, the newly orphaned Ben is living with his aunt, uncle, and cousins in their cabin. While there is no lack of love in his new home, he is lonely and grieving for his mother. Finding an old address in a book of hers, the first clue he has had to his father's identity, Ben sets off to find him, taking refuge for a time in an old museum.

Fifty years in Ben's past, Rose watches silent films and clips out pictures of a film star from magazines. Desperate to escape from her over-protective father, who keeps her close because she is deaf, she runs away to the city to find freedom, also taking refuge for a time in the museum.

Wonderstruck is the second of Selzinick's novels in words and pictures, and it benefits from his work on Hugo Cabret. It feels steadier, as though the author is now sure people will follow his work, and he is able to tell Rose's half in silence. As good as Hugo Cabret was, this is better. Each book deals with finding friends, family, and a place to belong, and the use of art in finding a path through the world. Both books also have that elusive, unquantifiable element: A sense of wonder. Highly recommended.

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