Images © Brian Selznick.
This has been out for a few years, and I keep looking at it in the bookstore, and liking it, but hadn’t bought it until recently. It’s an unusual mix of storytelling media. About half the book is text, telling the story in that way, the other half is wordless full-page pencil illustrations that also tell their part of the story sequentially, much like the old Lynd Ward woodcut novels, or of course, comics (in wordless sequences). I wasn’t sure if the two would make for a good partnership in telling a single story, but in fact they work quite well. Here’s an example:
Hugo’s life is strange but quite interesting from the start. He lives in a huge train station in Paris, literally inside the walls, where his daily task is to maintain all the many large clocks on the station walls, which are accessed from passageways Hugo travels through. He also has a hidden room of his own where he sleeps and works on his invention: actually something he found in the ruins of a museum destroyed by fire. It’s an automaton, a robot-like figure seated at a table made of very complex clockwork. It’s broken, but Hugo is gradually working to fix it, anxious to see what it will write or draw when he’s finished. To this end he’s been stealing mechanical toys from a toy shop in the train station, until one day he’s caught by the shop owner. Thus begins a strange love/hate relationship between the two, and the shop owner’s grand-daughter is soon involved as well.
If this were not enough fodder for a good story, there’s another level to it that I won’t spoil, but suffice it to say it involves one of the pioneers of early motion pictures, the first to understand that films could picture our dreams and fantasies as well as real things.
There’s plenty of action in this story as well, including several chases through the train station and its secret passageways, but the human story of the orphan boy Hugo, how he came to his strange life, and Hugo’s relationship with the girl, her friends, and the old man who runs the toy shop are the heart of this charming and well-written story.
As you can see on the cover, it’s soon to be a motion picture itself, directed by Martin Scorsese with a stellar cast, and I’ll be sure to see it. Meanwhile, the book is highly recommended!