A young boy's father chances upon an abandoned automaton, machine with their own will, in the museum. A clockmaker himself, he is fascinated with the workings of the automaton. The automaton once fixed will write. An unfortunate fire accident in which the clock worker dies finds the young boy in the care of his uncle, the clock keeper of the train station in Paris. Hugo learns to fix clocks at the station, but his uncle's disappearance life is thrown out of gear, quite literally. He decides to continue to maintain the clocks.A chance finding of the automaton brings new hope to Hugo. He starts to steal small parts from the old man in the toy store in the station. However, all is not what it seems.

Hugo busy at work

Hugo earnestly wants to fix the automaton, convinced his father has left a message in it for him. He befriends Isabelle,his employer's goddaughter. The only thing that keeps Hugo going is the automaton.  He then gets caught by the old man who takes his book of sketches of the automaton. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a story about this boy.

Isabelle, Hugo's new friend

Hugo thinks he alone has secrets but learns soon enough that those around him have far deeper and long-standing ones. Hugo's passion for all things mechanical and his survival instinct make will dazzle the reader. His ability to continue doing even when the situation seems both hopeless and desperate are heartening.

"Did you ever notice that all machines are made for some reason? " he asked Isabelle. "They are built to make you laugh, like the mouse here, or to tell the time like clocks, or to fill you with wonder, like the automaton. Maybe that's why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn't able to do what it was meant to do.Maybe it's the same with people, Hugo continued. If you lose your purpose...it's like you're broken."

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is as much about helping heal and rebuild lives as it is  the amazing automaton. Brian Selznick in his novel in words, pictures, and photos brings real life, reel life and magic together.

He had planned to write a story about George Méliès, the renowned illusionist, and pioneer of cinema but was waiting for more to make a story. He was also intrigued by the automaton that was donated to the Franklin Institute in an unusable condition.This is a book of mixed media.

A shot from one Méliès creations

He imagined what would happen if a boy came across the automaton and decided to fix it; this is how  the story of Hugo Cabret born. Selznick's brilliantly rendered pencil sketches on Fabriano Artistico paper is structured to look like hand drawn animation clips.

Sketch of the automaton
Sketch of the automaton

A fascinating book on film history, architecture and mechanics is set in the framework of the endearing story of Hugo Cabret. Selznick the magician storyteller conjures a tale that once savored will stay with  you as a gentle fragrance would forever.

Hugo's story is not one of a superhero who powers his way through obstacles. It is the story of one boy who in tries to survive, seeking all the while to keep his father's memory alive by fixing his unfinished project. In doing so this young, orphaned boy gives hope and renewal to others who have long lost it.

Book lending credit: Amrita Chanda

You can buy the book here:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret: Selznick, Brian: Amazon.nl
The Invention of Hugo Cabret: Selznick, Brian: Amazon.nl